How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
The names — Hiccup, Toothless, Ruffnut and so on — are still tickled-tween cartoonish, but the characters in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World grapple with some grown-up issues, including love, loyalty and the definition of freedom.
All wrapped up in the series’ well-established good humor, family feelings and dragon-fueled action.
A true conclusion to what’s now a trilogy, The Hidden World begins with a population problem: Rescued dragons have overrun Berk, where Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the scrawny hero of the first two movies, is now chief. While the plot turns on a confrontation with a powerful dragon killer named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), the movie’s real mission is to resolve the unsustainable alliance of Hiccup’s tribe of inexplicably Scottish Vikings with countless species of dragons. Don’t these intelligent, naturally peaceful creatures deserve their own homeland?
Thus the search for the Hidden World of the title, which Hiccup first sees as a place to which Berk’s entire population, human and dragon, can escape from Grimmel’s giant armada. Hiccup’s cat-like Black Fury dragon Toothless, meanwhile, falls hard for a mysterious and human-hating white female of his species, dubbed a Light Fury by Hiccup’s sidekick and girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera). The dragon romance generates both gags (Toothless is a goofy suitor) and tension, as the bond at the core of these movies — Hiccup and Toothless — is threatened.
The Hidden World, originally titled simply How to Train Your Dragon 3, was announced as a 2016 release when HTTYD2 was released in 2014. But the second movie’s only middling box office sent the filmmakers back to the drawing board. Disney graduate Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch) has directed all three movies and wrote the latter two solo. He clearly worked hard to make sure this final chapter again showcased the series’ wit and excitement while also layering on some weighty worries.
To DeBlois’s credit, the movie doesn’t take the obvious paths, either in the revelation of the (rather stunning) Hidden World or in the battles with Grimmel, and it’s a better movie for it. The animation, action sequences and visual effects are cranked up to new heights and rarely misfire, although the same cannot be said of some of the running jokes. (It’s unfortunate that Hiccup’s clique of misfit friends has not matured along with Hiccup.) The movie is bit overcrowded, leaving little screen time for Cate Blanchett’s Valka (Hiccup’s mom) or Kit Harington’s Eret (both introduced in HTTYD2).
But Grimmel makes a fine adversary for Hiccup, and the parallel love stories play out to a heart-warming coda. Of course, you don’t go see a movie with “dragon” in the title chiefly for romance, so Hidden World delivers plenty of spectacle (3D glasses recommended), splash and sparkle. In the rarefied world of third installments of animation franchises, it may be outshone only by Toy Story 3. That said, here’s hoping there’s no How to Train Your Dragon 4.
Grade: A-minus. Rated PG. Opens Feb. 22 at the Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and AMC Classic River Hills.
(Photo: Universal Pictures)