How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the kind of sequel that most sequels try to be. It's a film that recaptures the magic of the first film, while telling an entirely different story. Like the main character of Hiccup, this film is a little bit more mature than the first outing, with five years having passed for the viking dragon riders of Berk, and yet there is still a levity to the proceedings in all of the darker moments that maintain the innocent, child-like charm of the story.
The simple truth here is if you liked the first film, then you will enjoy this one. While I feel that the first film is a more complete narrative experience, there is sheer joy in seeing your favorite characters, human and dragon alike, back together again for a new adventure that is full of emotionally charged moments that get to you. If only the villain, Drago, had been a little more than just an external conflict for our heroes to face, this film might have bested its predecessor. The truth is, the film often bogs down a bit when Drago is onscreen because in a film that is as emotional as this one, a character there merely for plot contrivance doesn't always work. Of course, aside from an uninteresting villain, this is about as perfect a sequel as you can make.
All of the cast and crew of the first film are back and it really feels like you're watching a reunion of sorts unfold. I can only imagine that this must be how people felt when they saw The Empire Strikes Back for the first time. While How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not The Empire Strikes Back, the comparison is one that I feel sums up all of my favorite aspects of this film. From the musical score by returning composer John Powell, revisiting the catchy musical themes of the first film while adding new ones, to the spot on vocal performance by Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, this movie works because of its lovable characters and the same emotional heart beating underneath it as the first film. From the first time you see Hiccup and his dragon pal, Toothless, flying together as one to a new song by Sigur Ros frontman, Jonsi, you are transported back into this world and you only wish you could stay a little bit longer.
I give How to Train Your Dragon 2 an A-!