How to Train Your Dragon 2 stays grounded when it needs to

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Featuring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, and Gerard Butler. Rated G. Now playing

If How to Train Your Dragon was an intimate tale of a Viking boy and his black-stallion–like dragon (who’s really a slobbery dog in disguise), How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the big, soaring sequel that tries to discover new worlds, reunite estranged parents, and prove that bad guys can be reasoned with… until it gives up and goes where we totally expect it to. But at least it’s given us gorgeous moments along the way.

Hiccup (voiced by Canadian Jay Baruchel) is now a handsome young man living high on his success, having changed dad’s (Gerard Butler) mind about the need to do battle with dragons. They’re now packhorses around the village, and everyone has one as a pet.

When Hiccup flies off on his dragon one day—a sequence that makes breathless use of 3-D—he finds an icy trap: it seems a bad guy (Djimon Hounsou) is amassing a dragon army. Hiccup tells his dad, who wants to wage war, of course. For a brief, shining moment, Hiccup is convinced the better way is to try talking to the bad guy. His dad’s “Vikings take care of their own” mantra comes across as close-minded.

Then Hiccup meets someone from a different world (no spoilers), and hears the same mantra. By the end of the film, he’s adopted it. It’s hard not to read this as regression into jingoism.

Or maybe it’s just that all movies must end with a wham-bam battle these days. Until then, How to Train Your Dragon 2 at least does an admirable job of staying grounded when it needs to, like during a sweet duet between lovers who don’t have Broadway voices, and showing off the good stuff, like a spectacular new dragon colony.

There’s a lot to love here. Shame about the muddled messages.

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