Every series must eventually come to an end, and now it seems time to say farewell to the How to Train Your Dragon franchise. The first, from 2010, was about Hiccup, the young son of a Viking chief, who learned his people could coexist peacefully with the dragons they are endlessly fighting. Its sequel, from 2014, saw Hiccup meet his mother and become a leader. This third entry, subtitled The Hidden World, sees Hiccup try to fill his late father’s shoes as chief, as he tries to protect the people of Berk, and their dragons, from a dangerous new threat. The series has been about growing up, being open-minded and believing in yourself. This one, fittingly, is about moving on. Nothing lasts forever. I thought the first two were okay. The action and story here are on par with them. But overall this is the best of the group because the relationships, having been built up for two movies already, feel genuine. It all leads up to a final act that is surprisingly touching.
As we rejoin the dragon riders, Hiccup is leading his people on raids to save as many dragons as they can and bring them back to Berk. Then, a dragon hunter shows up with plans to kill Hiccup’s best friend, the dragon Toothless. With their home overflowing with dragons and a hunter after them, Hiccup must find a way to keep everyone safe, while possibly discovering the fabled Hidden World, supposedly a home for dragons, along the way.
Considering I was not super interested in its predecessors, The Hidden World (94 minutes without the end credits) does a very good job of wrapping up Hiccup’s arc using the themes it has previously introduced. Hiccup himself is a pretty generic animated family movie hero, but his story is consistent and he has really grown as a person during his adventures. By the end, I cared about his journey. That is impressive since I was not exactly looking forward to seeing this. However, the series treats his problems seriously, so the emotions are true. It took a while, but the payoff for him is satisfying.
Though these movies are about their central character, there is still a decent amount of action. Things tend to stop in favor of plenty of shots of fire-breathing and dragons swooping through the air. After a while, it all starts to look the same. That said, in this entry especially, writer/director Dean DuBlois knows where the heart of the story is and keeps the focus there. He was a writer/director on all three movies so you get the sense he truly understands them. The adventure is more personal than you would expect from a franchise following Vikings and dragons. The action slows things down, but it never totally gets in the way.
How to Train Your Dragon is a good example of the importance of finishing strong (assuming this is in fact the end). The first two had great voice casts, adequate stories and some amusing lines. That cast returns, though the story is not any better. Yet it grabbed me because it felt more purposeful. Hiccup is no longer a child. The series is honest about where maturity takes him, leading to an enjoyable capper to the trilogy.
3½ out of 5
Jay Baruchel as Hiccup
America Ferrera as Astrid
Cate Blanchett as Valka
F. Murray Abraham as Grimmel
Jonah Hill as Snotlout
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs
Kristen Wiig as Ruffnut
Justin Rupple as Tuffnut
Craig Ferguson as Gobber
Kit Harington as Eret
Directed and Screenplay by Dean DeBlois