Writer-director Dean DeBlois brings his wondrous Dragon trilogy to a spectacular finish with How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. The third and final part of the story from DreamWorks Animation faced an uphill battle since the first sequel, in 2014, earned $40 million less than the $217 million take of the 2010 original. In Hollywood, the bottom line drives the big decisions, so Dragon 3 looked destined for the chopping block. But DeBlois persevered and you’ll be glad he did. The Hidden World is the best Dragon yet — an animated action phenom with moonstruck passion in its heart and a spirit that soars.
Even if you never saw the first two parts — which you should — chapter three makes it easy to catch up. Hiccup, the gangly, young Viking (voiced by Jay Baruchel) at the center of all three films, is currently living in harmony with the dragons in his village of Berk. That’s mostly because his old friend Toothless, the dragon alpha who hails from the once-fearsome Night Fury species, keeps his fire-breathing brethren in line. Then Toothless falls in love with a creamy-skinned, female dragon. She’s called Light Fury by Hiccup’s pal Astrid (America Ferrera), who’s also interested in matters of the heart: She’d like to go from Hiccup’s best bud to his true love. But before dragons and humans can settle down, both species need to deal with Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a villain in the Trump tradition who’d like to wall off all communication between humans and what he calls “murdering” dragons.
For backstory, you need to know that Hiccup has a prosthetic leg, a close ally in Gobber (Craig Ferguson), a dead father in Stoick (Gerard Butler) and a Dragon Rider named Valka (huskily voiced by the great Cate Blanchett), who turns out to be his mother. The plotlines are dense and Dickensian for a family film yet all the better for it. For comic relief, there are clueless twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), a source of constant giggles who inadvertently put the citizens of Berk in danger. When Grimmel kidnaps Ruffnut, he’s driven crazy by her Viking Valley-girl speak; Wiig is a hoot, milking the role with every comedic weapon in her arsenal.
The plot pivots on something more serious: the discovery of Hidden World, an exotic place inhabited by dragons, where they must hide out until Grimmel and his thugs are defeated, and humans and dragons can once again peacefully coexist. DeBlois lays on the politics, but mostly with a light touch that avoids sermonizing. Where he triumphs is in the small details that create a relatable universe. The courtship between Toothless and Light Fury is a thing of balletic beauty that brings out the dazzling artistry of the animation. And when the dragons take flight to the lush score by John Powell the film brims with romance.
DeBlois traces the growing maturity of Hiccup and Toothless in two different worlds, the emotional bond between human and dragon leading to an ending as heartbreaking as it is hilarious. There’ll be no spoilers in this review. The subtleties of How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World sneak up on you and hold you captive. Just go with the film’s irresistible flow. There’s magic in it.