Movie Guy: Dragon 2 flies even higher

"How to Train Your Dragon" was something of a surprise hit in 2010, but it shouldn't come as a surprise that Hollywood immediately started working on a sequel, which flies into theaters this weekend. The surprise is that "How to Train Your Dragon 2" is every bit as good as the original film, and perhaps it's even a little bit better.

The producers got all of the important things right. The characters are still a lot of fun, there's plenty of humor and the animation soars, literally, whenever the dragons take flight. The difference this time around comes in the form of a much deeper story, which gives the film a wee bit of gravitas to go along with all that kid-friendly fun.

As the film begins, a few years have passed and the Viking villagers have learned to live in harmony with the world of dragons. Our hero, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has grown up a bit, and even though he's in line to be the next village chief, Hiccup would rather spend his time flying with his dragon, Toothless.

Danger arrives in the form of a dragon hunter and a dangerous tyrant, Drago (Djimon Hounsou) who is determined to enlist all dragons in his personal army. This sets up a showdown between Drago's army and our Viking heroes and their flying dragons. The resultant battle proves to be shockingly tragic, especially as animated family films rarely tread into genuine life and death territory. I love that this is a family film that doesn't shy away from the story's darker dramatic moments. It gives this sequel an underlying current of seriousness that wasn't present in the original film.

Parents shouldn't worry that the film has abandoned its feel-good roots. "How to Train Your Dragon 2" still scores major smiles with its animated aerial acrobatics, especially when seen in 3D. Watching Hiccup and Toothless fly all but took my breath away, and the opening sequence where the Vikings play a Quidditch-like game riding dragons while tossing terrified sheep about had all the young kids in the theater grinning with joy.
OK, I'll admit it. I loved it as well.

That undeniable sense of fun married with the breathtaking animation and a few new characters will make

"How to Train Your Dragon 2" into one of this summer's biggest hits. The deeper story elements make the film into one of this year's better movies, for young and old alike.