If you’re a parent with kids under the age of 10, you’ll soon realize that for the first time in eight years, Pixar - those reliable animation stalwarts who make movies mom, dad and junior can enjoy - doesn’t have a movie coming out this summer.
Lucky for you, DreamWorks Animation has stepped in with How to Train Your Dragon 2 - a sequel to the 2010 original.
The follow-up is every bit as smart, funny and jaw-droppingly beautiful as its predecessor with a storyline that picks up several years after the first instalment.
Along with recent releases like Puss in Boots, The Croods and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is further proof that DreamWorks is making animated films that can stand alongside features from Disney and Pixar.
In the sequel, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) has started mapping out different parts of the world using his dragon Toothless as a nifty set of wings to travel across large expanses of water. These scenes are executed with painterly precision; water ripples, clouds are so fluffy you want to just reach out and touch them.
His Viking chief dad Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) wants Hiccup to eventually take over the clan, but Hiccup, like most teens, is still trying to figure out who he is. How can you learn to be a boss when you still don’t know what you want to do when you get out of bed?
During one of his exploratory rides, Hiccup encounters Eret (Kit Harington), a hunter who sells dragons to Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a madman in the midst of assembling a dragon army.
So it’s time to grow up.
Hiccup and his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) set out to stop Drago. Along the way, he’s reunited with his long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), who has devoted her life to rescuing dragons.
“At least I’m not boring,” she quips when they first meet.
Dad shows up, along with Hiccup’s pals Snotlout Jorgenson (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs Ingerman (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson) and Tuffnut and Ruffnut Thorston (T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig). They try to convince him to abandon his quest to change Drago’s mind.
And while this back and forth offers plenty of comedic hijinks, several sequences in the film’s final act might upset younger viewers (parents should be aware of this). Things rebound by the end and the conclusion leaves us anticipating the third instalment, which, coincidentally, is already in the works for a 2016 release.
In terms of the animation, the level of detail in the new film is truly astounding, as is the 3D. I’ve had an uneven experience with the format as of late (Edge of Tomorrow and X-Men worked; Godzilla not so much). The flight scenes pop, and the dialogue is infused with the same witty improv we’ve come to expect from the adult films of the voice cast.
So yeah, Pixar might not be around this summer, but that’s okay. You’re in good hands with How to Train Your Dragon 2.