If I was to generalize I would probably say that Pixar produces sophisticated movies for the whole family while Dreamworks produces funny animal movies. It's an over-simplification and there are definitely exceptions on both sides, but that's my general impression of the two companies and their animated output.
How To Train Your Dragon, however, was a case where Dreamworks eschewed funny animals and produced a sophisticated movie. It's one of my favorite animated movies of the last decade. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is better in almost every respect.
And that's not something you can often say about a sequel.
I saw How To Train Your Dragon 2 in 3D which is something I mostly don't bother with. In this case though, if you have the option (and it works for you) it's a good idea. If you've seen the trailers you already know that the animation and cinematography is top notch. It's that standard or better all the way through the movie. And the swooping nature of the dragons flight lends itself perfectly to 3D. Not that your experience will be sub-par with the 2D version, but it did add a little something.
I'm not going to spend any more time talking about the animation, because there's just nothing bad or nit-picky that I have to offer there. It's great. Beautiful.
The story though, that's what really got me. Dreamworks took a brave step here by aging their hero Hiccup 5 years from 15 to 20. That's a major and very significant jump forward. Generally for children/family films the protagonist is a child because it's assumed that will be easier for the kids to identify with. But How To Train Your Dragon already told Hiccup's coming of age story. So what they did here was to show... there's no such thing. Life does not in fact offer a single right of passage at which point you change from boy to man. Instead it's a series of tests in which you hopefully learn things.
So at the start of this movie we have a Hiccup who is older and more confident but he's still naive and foolhardy and he is in no way mature. It's that very combination of traits that leads him to make some impulsive moves that land him and his friends and family in trouble.
Basically everyone else in this movie has to go rushing around attempting to save Hiccup because he goes flying off on his own without talking to people or planning. And there are consequences to that. Harsh consequences.
At first I thought we were going to get an annoying moral about how if you talk to people and understand them there's no need to fight. That would be a pretty traditional message for a kids movie. But it's also very shallow and simplistic. Instead though we got something a little closer to reality. Where you can try to talk to people. But sometimes they just aren't going to listen.
In the first movie Hiccup's stubborn refusal to listen to others helped everyone. Here... here the result is an avoidable tragedy. On the other hand... if he hadn't gone flying off, well his mother would not have been returned to his life. So, much like real life it's not all cut and dried.
The movie does a very good job of setting up and hitting the emotional beats for Hiccup and a couple of them are genuinely heart wrenching. Where it is weaker is in its treatment of the other characters. They all get some face time, but they don't noticeably grow or change.
I'm not sure if that's really a bad thing. This is Hiccup's story, just like the first movie was. It's not that they were made to be weak or ineffectual, on the contrary. It's just that we don't learn much more about them. Spending too much time developing side-plots to deepen the other characters would make for either an impossibly wrong running time or make Hiccup's story that much shallower. Movies are generally either deep or broad, but not both. They don't have that luxury in the way that books do.
Basically I loved this movie. It just did so many things right They even managed to pull off the
lightsaber Flaming Sword that Hiccup wields a few times throughout the movie.