In this second in a trilogy of films, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless have made peace with the dragons and the Viking community of Berk. His father Stoick (Gerard Butler) eagerly is looking forward to the day when Hiccup will take over as leader of the clan. But this young man has doubts about his ability to handle the responsibility and the stress that comes with role. His girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera), who wins the opening scene's dragon race, believes that Hiccup must look within for the qualities that will serve him well in the future.

One day while out exploring new territories he hopes to map, Hiccup encounters a group of men led by Eret (Kit Harington), a trapper who captures and sells dragons to Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou). Hiccup is saddened to hear that they regard dragons merely as objects for use by human beings; Drago is building an army of slave dragons. Hiccup wants to meet him and try to convince him of the value of living in peace and harmony.

After Toothless and Hiccup escape the pirate ship, they discover a stunningly beautiful island where they are mesmerized by Valka (Cate Blanchett), an animal-loving woman who has devoted 20 years of her life creating and maintaining a sanctuary for dragons. They are amazed to see hundreds of baby dragons of all shapes and sizes. Hiccup is especially drawn to Valka's sensitive nature and her ability to commune with the winged beings. She has taken the time to learn their natures and habits — just like he did with Toothless.

In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup had to convince his community to see dragons in a new light. In this story, he again tries to be a peacemaker. Drago Bludvist is a formidable opponent who is backed by a gigantic and fearsome Alpha Dragon. In the struggle that ensues when this power hungry fellow attacks, the most terrifying sequence involves the helplessness Hiccup feels when Toothless is hypnotized by the Alpha.

Whereas many other animated features had a menagerie of cute animals and fast-talking goof-balls in them, How to Train Your Dragon 2 avoids that gimmick. It goes the distance by giving us positive portraits of animals who win our respect. The filmmakers have done a great job making the close ties of affection between Hiccup and Toothless understandable and very appealing.

Three cheers for all those involved in this production who have made it into such a sturdy and satisfying defense of animal well-being and protection.

Go Deeper

No matter how many positive and uplifting messages parents may give their children about the joys of living with animals, the culture and the media are still peddling the obnoxious propaganda that animals exist for humans to use in any way they choose. But we know in our hearts that animals should not be viewed as property, as resources, or as disposable items.

We suggest that parents and their offspring discuss the following themes which appear directly or indirectly in How to Train Your Dragon 2.

1. We are all — humans and animals — part of the same "animal" kingdom.

2. When we get to know animals, we naturally respect them and recognize what makes them special.

3. Living with an animal helps us learn to build rather than to destroy things.

4. We must refrain from harming animals because they can suffer and feel pain just like us.

5. We should stand on the side of leaders who are working for the well-being of animals.

6. Those who rescue and take care of injured or stray animals are heroes.

7. Living in peace and harmony with animals is a noble ideal.