3.5 out of 5 stars.
“How to Train Your Dragon” is an epic series in a way that’s unlike most mainstream animated films. The films feature everything from great action sequences and beautiful animation to humor and cute critters, all while giving their characters complex personalities and dilemmas to solve. That is all present in the final film in the trilogy, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” as the story of young Viking Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless is wrapped up.
However, the story never quite attains the level of epicness you’d expect from the final film in a trilogy. The Dreamworks Animation film is directed by Dean DeBlois and set a year after the events of the second movie. The town of Berk has become a place where humans and dragons coexist peacefully, and Hiccup, Toothless, and their friends go on journeys to free captured dragons and bring them home with them. But they are pursued by dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), who seeks to capture Toothless for a group of warlords who desire to use his influence as the alpha dragon. As a result, Hiccup decides they should leave Berk and search for the Hidden World, a safe place for dragons that his father always obsessed over. But their quest is complicated by the introduction of a female Fury; realizing that he is not the last of his kind, Toothless is smitten with her, and Hiccup is left having to sort out his feelings about Toothless potentially leaving him.
The usual characters are back, including Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Tuffnut and Ruffnut (Justin Rupple and Kristen Wiig), and Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett). These side characters provide many of the humorous interludes, but it’s important to note that many of them have grown up with the film’s audience, and therefore have more grownup problems. Hiccup especially spends a lot of the story trying to figure out how to be a good leader like his father, whether that includes doing what is best for his people, marrying Astrid, or learning to let Toothless go. It’s here that the film finds most of its power, not in the main conflicts themselves.
And as far as those conflicts go, the one with Grimmel really takes a backseat, despite him supposedly being an enemy unlike any the Vikings had ever faced before. Even though his part of the story goes hand-in-hand with that of the Light Fury, it’s the latter that takes up the most of the film’s running time. The extended sequences of the Light Fury and Toothless’ relationship developing are cute and lovely, but in a way they also minimize the seriousness of the threat. It’s not an overall bad or uninteresting story, but it has trouble finding its footing and you can’t help feeling like the writers missed the opportunity to do more with it.
The animation, however, is stunning as usual, and it’s safe to say that this is Dreamworks Animation’s finest work visually. The amount of detail given to environments and characters is incredible, and the character design is unique and interesting, with the exception of the Light Fury, whose conventionally feminine design is a disappointment coming from this franchise. Any flaws that the film has are more than made up for in its final minutes, which bring the trilogy to such an emotional and stunning conclusion that it simultaneously leaves you wanting more and wanting Dreamworks to never ever mess with it. And it leaves viewers with the most important takeaway: that from the beginning, this series has been about family and friendship, and if those relationships are real, they will endure no matter the circumstances.
Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated PG.