WARNING: HERE THERE BE DRAGONS. AND ALSO SPOILERS.
Hopefully that takes up enough space to hide everything behind the jump.
The artists behind the animation of How to Train Your Dragon confirmed that a lot of Toothless' movement and body shape were inspired by one of the artists' cats. In How to Train Your Dragon 2, the resemblance is even more apparent. In one scene, Toothless is startled and pulls one of these:
It was so adorable I almost died of the cute.
There's more to HTTYD 2 than dragons with catlike reflexes, though. It's a solid film with a great continuing story, one that doesn't require you to have watched Dragons: Riders of Berk to follow - which is good because I've only seen a few episodes.
The previews for HTTYD 2 featured Hiccup's glider suit, which I was worried was going to lead to some kind of ret-con of Toothless' injury. Fixing this problem would change the nature of Hiccup's relationship with him, and I didn't want that to happen, especially with this being an injury that they're close to having in common. But not to worry - Toothless and Hiccup still need each other to fly, they've just broadened their aerial skill set.
As Captain Max and JINX said in his review, it was refreshing to see that Stoick's pride in his son and their new understanding has withstood the five-year gap between the first movie and this one, but while they definitely get along better they still don't know how to communicate. Hiccup is avoiding facing the reality of his position as the future leader of Berk, distracting himself with mapping the surrounding territory with Toothless. When he and Stoick do get a chance to catch up, they talk past each other just the same way they did before, with Stoick bursting with enthusiasm for Hiccup's future and Hiccup trying to get a word in edge-wise.
This discussion is put on hold, however, when Hiccup and Astrid discover dragon trappers and learn of the existence of Drago Bludvist, a mysterious figure from Stoick's past who leads an army of dragons. I was a little concerned that we would fall into a familiar revenge plotline if it turned out that Drago was the one who was responsible for the "death" of Hiccup's mother, but no - it turns out that Drago was basically running a protection racket by making an offer to a gathering of Viking chiefs. He would "protect" them from the dragons for a price. They laughed him out of the room, he set his dragon army on them, and Stoick was the only survivor.
As revealed fairly early on in the previews, Hiccup's mother is NOT dead. She was carried off by dragons, true, but they didn't carry her off to eat her. Life at Berk was hard for her, as she saw the conflict between Vikings and dragons to be nothing but a waste of lives. During a raid she discovered Cloudjumper (her dragon) inspecting Hiccup as an infant, and she saw how gentle the dragon was with her son. They formed an instant connection and Cloudjumper took her with them when the dragons retreated. She spent the ensuing 20 years in a nest of dragons, which are under the control of an enormous Alpha dragon, a Bewielderbeast that spits ice.
To be honest, after Hiccup's mother was revealed to still be alive in the trailers, I wasn't expecting for there to be any more really shocking plot developments in HTTYD 2.
I was wrong.
Stoick and Gobber track Hiccup to the dragon nest where Valka lives, and Stoick falls instantly in love with her again. Valka is hesitant and shy after 20 years with almost no human contact, but Stoick is patient and gently reminds her of their life together, and asks if she wants to go back to Berk now that they've made such drastic changes to accommodate the dragons. She says yes, and everything is wonderful.
Then, of course, everything instantly goes sideways. Drago shows up with a Bewielderbeast of his own to challenge the Alpha of Valka's nest, and despite everyone's best efforts the loyalty of all of the dragons switches to Drago's Alpha. Including Toothless, who attacks Hiccup under the Alpha's control. Stoick dives in front of a fireball to save his son. And that's the end of Stoick the Vast.
I'm not ashamed to tell you, I cried. I wasn't the only one - I heard sniffles all around me as we watched Hiccup and the other riders shoot flaming arrows onto the floating pyre. Everything that had been so happy just moments before was now completely terrible.
Ultimately this is a story about family, self-discovery and loyalty. It's said a few times during the movie that once you truly win a dragon's loyalty, it will do anything for you. And in the end, it is a dragon's loyalty that saves Berk.
- Ruffnut's complicated love life cracked me up the whole time - when she's not being simultaneously hit on by both Snotlout and Fishlegs, she's mooning over a handsome dragon trapper, which is framed by hilarious sequences of female gaze.
- Valka has got some serious dragon skills, and I kept thinking that she might have been able to use them to make friends with Drago's Alpha. The Alpha is a really neat concept because it adds background to the dragon behavior we saw in the first film. But instead of directing the dragons of the nest to scavenge for huge amounts of food to feed it, which led to the conflicts between the dragons and Vikings, Valka's Bewielderbeast provides for his nest, scooping up great mouthfuls of fish and spitting them into the air for the smaller ones to eat.
- The small, elderly Viking lady who doesn't say anything has a whole collection of the tiny Terrible Terrors. Instead of the crazy cat lady, she's the crazy dragon lady.
- I love how resigned Berk's sheep seem to be about being used as game balls for the dragon races. Poor little sheepies.