Cannes 2014: How to Train Your Dragon 2 reaction review

DreamWorks' association with Cannes has always seemed a little odd.

In a festival and town that prides itself on its arthouse sensibilities and wilfully anti-Hollywood selection, DreamWorks' numerous (and admittedly very memorable) film debuts and associated media stunts have stuck out like a Kung-Fu Panda fan at a Pixar convention.

Emerging bleary-eyed from a harrowing, four hour existentialist Polish drama to see Jerry Seinfeld flying down a zipwire dressed in a giant bee costume was never going to be the most natural of cinematic bedfellows.

Yet How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a movie that doesn't feel erroneously out of place at the Festival - sure, it's still dayglo, big-budget and a franchise sequel, but it has more than enough heart, emotive performances and thrill-inducing wonderment to entertain even the most curmudgeonly of Cannes critics.

Set five years after the far-better-than-anyone-was-really-expecting original, Hiccup and his pet/buddy/life partner dragon Toothless are closer than ever - not only that, but Hiccup's human relationships are just as solid, having grown closer to girlfriend Astrid and his father since they saved Berk from a fiery fate at the culmination of the original movie.

Yet with added freedom also comes new threats, and the long-fought peace between the Vikings and the land's native dragon population is soon put under threat by the arrival of a new and mysterious Dragon Rider, and the villainous dragonknapper Drago Bludvist and his army of dragons.

Writer/director Dean DeBlois only agreed to return for a sequel with the understanding that he could create a trilogy, noting that he wanted to draw upon the epic movie sagas of his youth as inspiration. And while there's no immediate carbonite cliffhanger, it's really not too far a stretch to call this The Empire Strikes Back of the franchise.

Darker, more emotionally complex and with suitably upped spectacle, it's easily DreamWorks' most mature and accomplished film yet. Like its predecessor (in which Hiccup and Toothless were both maimed during the finale) this is a universe that has real stakes and consequences, and as such the emotional gutpunches are all the more affecting.

That's not to say it's in any way all doom and gloom - as with its predecessor, How To Train Your Dragon 2 nails the grin and envy-inducing wonderment of living in a world in which you can become besties with an adorable cat/dog-like pet dragon.

Whether in its action-packed battle scenes or in its euphoria-eliciting moments of Hiccup and Toothless serenely gliding above the clouds, the flying scenes utterly soar (every pun very much intended). And while we won't go into specifics (spoilers and all), the five year gap helps DeBlois and co tell a new and - most importantly - richer and more investable story.

Ultimately, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a movie about growing up - not only for Hiccup and Toothless, but for DreamWorks, too.