The third entry in almost every trilogy is the worst of the bunch, but don’t let that dampen excitement for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. This is an all-around awesome franchise, so even though The Hidden World is undeniably the weakest of the three movies, it’s still a heartwarming and eye-popping conclusion.
This installment takes place a year after How to Train Your Dragon 2. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Night Fury Toothless, join their buddies to scour the seas around their native Berk in search of captured dragons to free. After one successful nighttime raid, the heroes return to their home, which has become extremely crowded with dragons and humans alike. Meanwhile, the warlords whose ships Hiccup and friends have been ransacking decide to enlist some outside help from a nefarious man named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), whose lifelong obsession is to kill all the Night Furies.
Following a couple close calls with the bad guy, Hiccup decides the only way dragons will ever be safe from evil men is if they can escape to their fabled ancestral home. So the citizens of Berk uproot and head west into the unknown, hoping to find the Hidden World.
Part of what sets this movie a notch below the others is just how redundant the plot feels. There’s not much of a new storyline here beyond the El Dorado quest—which ends up being something of an afterthought anyway. The villain is one-dimensional, and in terms of scale, it feels a bit like The Hidden World might have fit better as the middle chapter rather than the finale. Fortunately, there’s strong enough characterization throughout to keep this thing interesting. Animated characters too often stay the same or return to some status quo, but DreamWorks does a nice job of giving its central characters compelling arcs. Parting is such sweet sorrow, and the Hiccup/Toothless dynamic builds to an affecting climax.
As with its predecessors, the animation in The Hidden World is spectacular. Props to the filmmakers for continuing to find novel ways to make their new dragons and this world stand out. The latest addition, a female “Light Fury” who’s captured Toothless’ eye, is one of the coolest dragons yet, turning invisible with a burst of flames, and Toothless himself has a few new tricks up his sleeve. The battle sequences are well choreographed, and the Hidden World is nothing short of stunning, a kind of psychedelic undersea dragon land that completely electrifies the screen. It’s a shame so little time is spent there, especially since the movie is called The Hidden World, but maybe too much of a good thing would have made it less special.
Altogether, The Hidden World makes for another wonderful family adventure. This is allegedly the last film in the series, so things definitely turn bittersweet. But given how successful these movies have been, it’s a safe bet we’ll see another How to Train Your Dragon somewhere down the road.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Director: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham
Theater: Area theaters, now open