*** (out of four)
That itchy sensation on your chin is the bushy wonder of Stoick’s (Gerard Butler) beard. That moisture you feel is the credible rippling of the water beneath Viking vessels. In “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” the animation simply rules. Elegant and detailed, the film soars and whooshes with the craft that all animated movies should have.
The story’s not bad either, a step up from the good-looking, overly praised 2010 hit. Thanks to Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his pro-dragon agenda, the Vikings in Berk no longer fear the mighty creatures, instead existing together in harmony and racing them in a Quiddich-like game that uses sheep instead of balls. Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), however, doesn’t live in Berk and seeks to collect all dragons to turn them into soldiers. He probably also decided to be evil once he realized his name sounds like “Bloodfist.”
Writer-director Dean DeBlois co-wrote and co-directed the first movie, but left alone with Cressida Cowell’s book series, the filmmaker delivers a sequel that elevates the material without telling the same story as every other animated movie. Sure, the family developments in “HTTYD2” (which, following “The Fault in Our Stars,” makes this the second consecutive week with a movie featuring a character with a prosthetic leg) aren’t exactly novel. The dragon power structure hinges on elements that weren’t new when they recently appeared in both “Divergent” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” As with its predecessor, this “Dragon” tries too hard to be funny.
What’s a treat, though, other than the useful randomness of including Baruchel, Hounsou, Butler, Cate Blanchett and “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harington (a massive failure in “Pompeii”) in the same movie, is the challenge posed to Hiccup’s idealism. The world is not a rational place, a lesson many of us re-learn continually. Sometimes you have to fight for peace. Next to crisp images like Hiccup and his best dragon pal Toothless performing synchronized falling and a group of dragons illuminating darkness like a sea of smartphones at an outdoor concert, those hard messages go down with a degree of beauty.
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