How to Train Your Dragon 2 - A Dragons in the Mist tale - 3 stars

Hiccup, Toothless and the Dragon Riders are back and ready for action. Does the magic of the first film take flight? 

Walking into the cinema...
In a year of the sequel, this is one of the few follow up films with potential. What is the appeal? A family film based on an original premise and the previews seem to introduce interesting twists to this beloved, viking tale. 

Cinematic value:  3 stars
The Dragon Riders, family tension and viking humour are back. Like the original film, we start off with the narration from Hiccup () and life on the island of Berk. Things have changed significantly in the community over the past five years. Dragons and vikings live together in harmony, but tension still exists between Hiccup and his father, Stoick (). It is refreshing to see animated characters physically mature and to see noticeable changes in the community after five years. The original favourites are back and with the introduction of new characters, humour and action are still flying high key parts of the storyline. During Hiccup and Toothless' new adventures, away from their island home, they discover a mysterious, Dragon Rider. Through new challenges to loyalties and new twists in this family adventure, they must come together to defeat the enemy of man and dragon, Drago () and his dragon army. 

From the opening scene, the most striking component of ' film is the animation. It is hard to imagine that computer animation can improve with each new film, but it is stunning. It is easy to get distracted by the detail and life-like elements of the visual experience. But good animation cannot drive a film, story has to be at the driving factor. The original package was unique and a captivating tale that pulled the audience into the journey. How to Train Your Dragon 2's story is weighed down with too many new elements and it struggles to take flight. The film has action and great characters, but then goes down a Gorillas in the Mist conservation message that does not fit in the heart of the Viking life. This story element brings a feeling of 'not this again' as we are introduced to the Avatar-like land of the dragons. It is obvious that this is to develop cinematic tension and motivation for action, but the real drama of the film is due to family matters. 

The family issues have the potential to be the heart warming element of the film, but it is where the story suffers. We are introduced to Hiccups mother, Valka (), who is the Dian Fossey (Gorillas in the Mist reference) of dragons. This explains Hiccups abilities and connections with the dragons, but it brings difficulty in the primary storyline. How could a mother and wife stay way from her family for 20 years? The grace and mercy shown to Valka by her son and husband are of biblical proportions, but it still leaves too many unanswered questions to be satisfying. There is another family plot twist that comes later in the story and has the opposite effect of its emotional intent. The tension it causes is intended to serve as a ground swell of emotion, but inevitably causes the story to crash.  Finally, a non-familial plot hole is how Drago comes to control his dragon army. He wields great power and is effective as the villain, but how he gained this power is never explained. The story layers cause too much confusion and has a negative effect on the film's direction. 

Admittedly, the expectations for How to Train Your Dragon 2 may have been too high and to clarify, the film is worth seeing. It is a darker film than the original, but it maintains the humour and excitement. The action sequences amazed the children in the theatre and there was laughter all around. This film was fun, the animation was sensational, but the story is unnecessarily weighed down and struggled to take flight. 

Family value:  3 stars
Being in an audience of children for the screening helped to see if it connected with its intended audience. I seemed to connect well. The original film was dark, but the sequel takes a even darker path. Drago and his dragon army are vicious and may be scary for younger viewers. The references to Nordic gods are minimal, but worth noting for discussion with children after the film. Families cannot go wrong with choosing this film, even with the weaknesses in the story.  
Overall Rating:  3 stars

Leaving the cinema...
This film about flying vikings and dragons suffered from high expectations and it did not manage to go to new heights. The advantage this film has in 2014 is the lack of choices in the family film market. It was a good film, but failed to meet or exceed the standard set by the original film.    

Bigger questions:
1. What is the meaning of sacrifice?  (Matthew 27, Luke 23-24)
2. What is the priority of family in your life? (Exodus 20:12, Colossians 3:18-21)
3. Should we fight for a cause and for our beliefs? (1 Timothy 6:12, Mark 8:34)

Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews