It’s not often that a trilogy, particularly in the world of kids’ animation, holds up from movie to movie (to movie). With the exception of the Toy Story franchise, there hasn’t been much. Cars faltered on its second outing (though bounced back), Despicable Me should have stopped after two, and can we please not even go near Ice Age, Hotel Transylvania, and Shrek?
Despite taking its sweet time to get here (a month shy of nine years has passed between the first and final installments), How to Train Your Dragon is one of those examples of rare-air dwellers who start strong, stay strong, and end strong.
Perhaps one of the more underrated franchises in kid-dom, HTTYD has never seemed concerned with selling toys in Happy Meals or launching a TV show (though it’s done both). At its core, it’s simply a genuinely well-made series of films driven by a solid story and punctuated with some of the more outstanding (and kid-friendly) CG effects to grace a movie screen. And Hidden World brings it all home in excellent fashion, giving equal time to goofball humor, family-centric heart, and rousing action before its fitting and fulfilling send-off.
The lanky Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is settling into his life as chief of the Vikings in Berk. He still spends his days gathering up the world’s dragons to give them a safe home with the help of his buddies Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Hiccup’s mom Valka (Cate Blanchett) lends a hand, too, along with Gobber (Craig Ferguson). So, yes, the whole gang’s back (with the exception of TJ Miller, who was booted after his sexual assault allegations and the infamous Amtrak bomb scare).
The continuous influx of dragons is starting to cause a wee bit of overcrowding in the village, leading Hiccup to remember a myth his father once shared regarding the Hidden World, a land at the edge of the Earth that is safe for dragons. And, as it turns out, Hiccup’s timing couldn’t be better. The nefarious Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) has spent his life tracking and killing Night Furies like Hiccup’s own Toothless, and he wants to finish the hunt.
Writer-director Dean DeBlois, who has helmed the entire franchise, clearly decided to save the best for last. Yes, animation has evolved exponentially since the first installment hit theaters in 2010, but many of the visuals in Hidden World still defy expectations (and logic). Fire, fog, clouds, and water all figure prominently throughout the film, and there are more than a few moments when you will have to convince yourself that what you’re watching isn’t real.
Beyond just looking incredible (particularly during the mid-film visit to the titular locale), Hidden World hits all its other marks, too. The comedy elicits frequent honest-to-goodness belly laughs, the tightly choreographed fight scenes are stunning, and it culminates with an all-the-feels ending that deftly and satisfyingly sends Hiccup and the gang off into the sunset.
Buoyed by John Powell’s sweeping, Celtic-tinged score and Pierre-Olivier Vincent’s stunning production design, Hidden World is a true thing of beauty. And though it makes a strong case that dragons do, in fact, exist (or perhaps that’s just the romantic in me), I’m fairly certain none of us will ever live to see one. No matter—being allowed into the world of HTTYD over the course of the past decade is reward enough.