DreamWorks’ delightful How to Train Your Dragon trilogy soars to an emotionally satisfying and visually striking conclusion with the threequel, “The Hidden World.”
Based on the children’s books by Cressida Crowell, the How to Train Your Dragon films constitute the rare trilogy that has managed to improve with each installment, mostly because each animated adventure has allowed the young characters to actually grow up rather than trying to keep them eternally cute and childlike.
The feature films have tracked the evolving relationship between maverick Viking youth Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) and his beloved dragon Toothless in 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon which introduced the characters and allowed them to triumph through their nonconformist ways, and 2014’s How to Train Your Dragon 2 in which both Hiccup and Toothless learned to discover and claim their power.
The Hidden World continues to chronicle the growing pains for Hiccup, the skinny, uncertain and clever son of the late beloved warrior-chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) and the once-lost dragon advocate and adventuress Valka (Cate Blanchett). The new film picks up much where the second installment left off, with Hiccup as the fledgling chief of the village of Berk, which has become a haven where Vikings and dragons live in peace.
But the tiny island becomes overcrowded as Hiccup, his courageous fiancée Astrid (America Ferrera) and their bumbling band of buddies – the braggadocious Snotlout (Jonah Hill), the nerdy dragon expert Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and the annoying, loudmouthed twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple, subbing in for T.J. Miller) – continues to rescue dragons from the trappers who want to enslave the magnificent animals and use them as beasts of war.
Facing increasing pressure to marry Astrid, settle down as chief and focus on leading the village, Hiccup remembers his childhood discussions with his father about the Hidden World, a legendary place where dragons can live freely and at peace away from humans.
His efforts to find the Hidden World intensify once his pesky rescue raids prompt the dragon trappers to recruit the shrew and ruthless dragon killer Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham, continuing the series’ run of notable villains), who is responsible for slaying most of Toothless’ kind, the sleek and powerful Night Fury.
Grimmel plots to use a captured female Light Fury, the counterpart to the Night Fury, to lure Toothless and Hiccup into his bloody grasp. With the introduction of the fetching Light Fury, returning writer/director Dean DeBlois gives Toothless his own quest, and the scenes of Hiccup’s fierce yet goofy pal trying to woo the wild female are captivating, hearkening back to the series’ best moments, when Hiccup and Toothless first met and bonded.
The Hidden World marks the beautiful culmination of so many of what the How to Train Your Dragon series has done so well: the gorgeously rendered animation, the breathless flying sequences, the fierce battles won by cunning strategy and trusty teamwork, the playful humor and well-earned emotional beats. The theme of accepting that friendships change as you grow up is beautifully realized, with a tearjerking coda that perfectly caps the coming-of-age saga of a boy and his dragon.