Most modern animated movies have slowly slipped into the same unambitious groove occupied by elevator music. The same adjectives could be sprinkled onto any of them, like pepper onto rice cakes: Most are pretty, well-made, innocuous, and completely forgettable. The How to Train Your Dragon franchise has always been a notch above the rest, mainly because it adds just a little more heart, intelligence, and invention. The Hidden World, the third feature installment, does even better by supplying a satisfying endpoint to the story as a whole.
Both the film and this review will assume you’ve taken a ride on the two previous Dragon wagons. If not, head on over to iTunes and do a little streaming. With that out of the way: This third story picks up a year after the events of Part Deux, and finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as the chief of the Viking village of Berk. Toothless, Hiccup’s doe-eyed dragon BFF, presides over Berk’s sprawling tribe of friendly fire-breathers. The opening scenes find Berk settling into domestic bliss: Wedding rumors surround Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrara), his longtime warrior-girlfriend. The story also supplies Toothless with a love interest in the form of shimmering, pearl-white dragon, dubbed the “Light Fury.” Once again, this tranquility shatters when a dragon-hating demagogue (F. Murray Abraham) descends on Berk, determined to wipe out the scaly beasts for good.
By this point, the Dragon franchise has become a well-oiled ballista. Each film is basically a variation on the same formula: Hiccup gets tested, doubts himself. Berk doubts hiccup. Hiccup has to find new reservoirs of strength within his dweeby, bashful soul. His bond with Toothless gets pushed to the brink. Yada yada. The decision to tie off the series here was a wise one; further expansions might’ve gone stale.
Thankfully, there’s still a whole hell of a lot to enjoy here. The voice cast is stellar from top to bottom. Baruchel plays the creaky hero to perfection, adding notes of confidence and nostalgia as the character ages. Blanchett brings her magnetic star power to bear as Hiccup’s wise mother. Abraham takes his urbane villainy out of the fridge and reheats it for another go. Kit Harrington imports his hunky baritone from Game of Thrones. The actors are having a lot of fun, and it shows in their performances.
All that vocal prowess wouldn’t matter a damn if the visuals didn’t pop. Gotta say it–the animation is gorgeous. The clouds, the oceans, and even the trees are absolutely stunning in detail. I’m a sucker for hand-drawn animation, but the digital artistry on display here is hard to beat.
The Dragon films represent a rare trilogy without a true weak link. Kids will be enrapt by the sheer visual thrill, while adults can enjoy moments of subtle humor. Even better, the film gets its message across about true friendship and loyalty without going completely corny. Movies like this prove that children’s fare need not be lazy or condescending.