The tale of Hiccup the viking and his pet dragon Toothless reaches its tender conclusion with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Adapted for the books by Cressida Cowell, the original How to Train Your Dragon hit theaters back in 2010 and was widely celebrated for its beautiful visuals and touching story of a boy and his animal companion. DreamWorks Animation wasted little time getting going on the sequel after that and the resulting movie, 2014’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, was a similar success, both critically and commercially. Now, five years later, the third installment has arrived and it thankfully doesn’t disappoint, either. The Hidden World is an exhilarating and beautifully-crafted finale that brings the How to Train Your Dragon series to a stirring conclusion.
The Hidden World picks up a year after the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), now the chieftain of Berk following the death of his father Stoick (Gerard Butler), has transformed his home village into a place where dragons and vikings live in harmony. At the same time, Hiccup’s ongoing efforts to free the dragons of the world make him a target for other warlords and viking clan leaders. Eager to claim their creatures back, Hiccup’s enemies turn to Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), an infamous dragon hunter who agrees to help them in exchange for being allowed to hunt Hiccup’s pal Toothless, the last of the (male) Night Furies.
As Grimmel closes in on them, Hiccup convinces the citizens of Berk to follow him on a journey to find The Hidden World: the legendary realm where Stoick believed the dragons came from, and a potential safe haven. Meanwhile, Toothless encounters a female Night Fury – or Light Fury, as Astrid (America Ferrera) calls it – set loose by Grimmel and the pair quickly enter a courtship with one another. Seeing how happy his dragon pal is, Hiccup comes to realize that, even if The Hidden World exists, it may no longer be possible for Berk’s vikings and their dragons to live together in peace.
Written and directed by Dean DeBlois (who also worked on the previous How to Train Your Dragon films), The Hidden World offers a thematically satisfying conclusion to the larger fantasy adventure saga, along with all the heart and humor that audiences have come to expect from the franchise. Much like the original Toy Story trilogy, the How to Train Your Dragon movies have grown up and matured alongside the generation of kids who’ve come of age watching them. Indeed, The Hidden World is a natural progression of the earlier films, in the sense that it shows Hiccup struggling with far more adult concerns than he had back when he first met Toothless. Rest assured, The Hidden World is still perfectly family-friendly and has something to offer audiences of all ages. All the same, it’s nice that the series’ characters actually evolve and develop here, as opposed to repeating the same arcs again.
After nine years, of course, the animation on the How to Train Your Dragonmovies has only grown richer in texture and color. The Hidden World is further bolstered by its action, which is not only some of the most impressively staged and sweeping in the franchise, but frequently unstages the spectacle featured in recent (and more expensive) live-action tentpoles. Credit for that belongs to DeBlois and his army of skilled animators, as well as cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has served as a visual consultant across all three How to Train Your Dragon films. It’s not all nonstop excitement and adventure either, though there are plenty of both. In fact, some of the most striking visuals are featured in The Hidden World‘s quieter and more serene moments, including a romantic sequence that rivals the famous “Define Dancing” scene from WALL-E for sheer cinematic poetry.
The How to Train Your Dragon voice cast are quite comfortable in their roles now and once again do fine work in The Hidden World. The film even makes room to give Hiccup and Astrid’s Viking peers – including, Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), and Tuffnut (who, in a welcome change, is now voiced by Justin Rupple rather than T.J. Miller) – simple arcs of their own and flesh out their personalities a little more. Admittedly, there are so many characters in the series by now that some are given more to do than others, with Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) and Eret (Kit Harginton) arguably getting the short end of the stick. On the plus side, the villain Grimmel is surprisingly memorable and a welcome upgrade from Drago in How to Train Your Dragon 2. He’s not the most complicated baddie, admittedly, but what Grimmel lacks in complexity he makes up for with his cunning and the sheer delight he takes in hunting Hiccup, Toothless, and the rest of the gang.
By this point, moviegoers have surely prepared themselves emotionally for The Hidden World, and with good reason. It’s very much a poignant farewell to the heroes and world of How to Train Your Dragon, if not necessarily a film that’s as devastating as Toy Story 3 and similarly sophisticated offerings from animation studios like Disney and/or Pixar. That’s largely because The Hidden World‘s themes simply aren’t as ground-breaking and challenging as those explored in other mainstream animated films over the past ten years. To be clear, it’s an affecting film and will surely leave the strongest impression on those who were children when this franchise got started. Keeping that in mind: compared to the layered narratives explored in other animated features of late (including The LEGO Movie series), the life lessons in The Hidden World come off feeling relatively generic.
Overall, The Hidden World ends the How to Train Your Dragon movies on a strong note and shouldn’t disappoint those who’ve spent the last five years anxiously awaiting the final chapter in Hiccup and Toothless’ story (well, final for now, anyway). It’s very much a movie worth seeing on the big screen too, between its gorgeous animation and the rousing score by John Powell, who also worked on the first two movies. Fair warning: those who haven’t seen the previous How to Train Your Dragon films or missed the second entry will want to catch up before checking this one out, seeing as The Hidden World spends very little time bringing moviegoers up to speed on who everyone is and what happened in the first two chapters. And yes, those who tend to cry at films are advised to take the necessary precautions.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World opens in U.S. theaters on Thursday evening, February 21. It is 104 minutes long and is rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.