How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a cozy conclusion to the adventures of Hiccup and Toothless. Stellar animation and soaring action make up for the overly sentimental themes. The third, and supposedly final film in the series, is a full blown dragon romance with the human coupling taking second stage. An underwhelming villain clouds the narrative, but thankfully isn't too distracting. What works is the maturation of the characters. They continue to be humorous and endearing on their last dragon ride.
The film begins with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), Astrid (America Ferrera), and the gang rescuing a group of captured dragons from pirates. Decked out in black scaly armor and wielding a flaming sword, Hiccup is certainly a bad-ass. They return successfully to Berk, but aren't as welcome with their new coterie of flame breathers. Berk has been overrun by dragons. It is no longer a safe haven, but a target. Gobber (Craig Ferguson) wants Hiccup and Astrid to put the dragons in the past and get married. The village needs them to take their rightful place.
Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a merciless dragon killer, is hired by the pirates to get their property back. He knows that Toothless is the alpha. Every dragon in Berk will follow his lead. Grimmel uses a fetching Light Fury to lure the lovestruck Toothless. Hiccup realizes that Gobber is right. Grimmel will inevitably track them and destroy Berk. Hiccup must find the fabled Hidden World to save his beloved dragons. Letting them go proves to be his most difficult challenge.
Director/writer Dean DeBlois has built strong relationships between the characters. They are meaningful, have consequences. His script for the finale is a primer for growing up. Hiccup's friendship with Toothless defines them both. But their destinies are on different paths. As Hiccup hilariously teaches Toothless to woo the mysterious Light Fury, he understands that a new day has come. How to Train Your Dragon's greatest achievement is its tackling of serious issues. Hiccup lost a leg, then his father, and now he watches as his best friend finds happiness. These are serious subject matters handled with a delicate touch. Children who see this film will understand that even the best of friends must go their own way.
The dragon courting scenes are clever and funny, but honestly lose steam by the third act. Toothless and the Light Fury bumble about like an awkward first date. It's a sweet romance that gets a little too much screen time. There's never any doubt to our dragon couple's fate. I will give a shout out to John Powell's score. The interaction between Toothless and the Light Fury is obviously unspoken. The musical accompaniment is key to setting the mood. Powell's string orchestrations are particularly thrilling as the dragons glide through enchanting auroras. It's a winning combination of story, animation, and music. Dean DeBlois hits a high in these moments, but then drifts overboard to sappiness by the end.
My primary fault is with the antagonist Grimmel. He is a generic and unmemorable baddie. There was an opportunity to make the character much darker and sensational. Instead the script goes more comedic and defangs an already boring character. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World loses a beat when Hiccup and Grimmel face off. Their showdown is the least interesting part of the film when it should be a highlight.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World will delight kids while keeping parents relatively entertained. Fans of the series will find the ending worthy. You will be mystified if you haven't seen the first two films, so don't jump unto the dragon ride cold. Dreamworks Animation is now owned by Comcast, so this final installment is distributed by Universal.