Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, F. Murray Abraham
Watch How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / eir Vision Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
The number of film trilogies that hit truly memorable heights with every single outing can be counted on your fingers. Toy Story (now a quadrilogy) is the modern go-to for a timeless trio of greatness, but Pixar’s masterpiece has always overshadowed another animated gem: How to Train Your Dragon. Now getting its own concluding chapter, it’s a trilogy that soars with the best of them.
As we rejoin Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon buddy, Toothless, the young Viking is now the chief of Berk, a kingdom that has embraced the winged fire-breathers as their equals. Their village is a thriving, humming, sometimes smoking metropolis of activity, chaos and colour; in these sequences alone, the sheer amount of things going on warrants multiple viewings to appreciate the every lavish detail. But amid the bright, fiery peace stirs unrest and uncertainty, as Hiccup and his long-term partner, Astrid (America Ferrera), find themselves under pressure to step into the ruling family role, and all that entails.
Family relationships have always been one of the series’ biggest strengths – apart from the dragons, of course. With Hiccup’s mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), now on hand for wise advice and reassuring experience, the careful balance of happiness and sadness (one flashback of Hiccup as a baby being comforted by his father is heartbreaking) is more complex than ever; the script by Dean DeBlois has a real knack for tapping into rich themes and complex emotions with the simplest of brushstrokes, trusting its audience to find the resonance beneath the gorgeously etched surface. And so, as the trilogy reaches its climax, we also get a sense of Hiccup reaching maturity, learning not just to save the day but also to take responsibility in his stride, as he tries to juggle keeping everyone safe with searching for the titular Hidden World, a mythical safe haven for dragons.
Toothless, meanwhile, has his own journey to go on, as a Light Fury (the female counterpart to the male Night Fury) appears from nowhere, previously thought to be extinct. DeBlois spends a lot of the time following their mating rituals and dances, something that gives this busy blockbuster a surprising amount of dialogue-free screentime, and those passages are a goldmine for goofy slapstick and heartfelt chemistry, wittily drawn with all the endearing enthusiasm of a dog and the independent strength of a cat.
The Light Fury, though, is caught up in a plot hatched by Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a dragon hunter who is hired to wipe out Toothless and take down Berk’s flying population. It’s a premise that feels a little too repetitive, after the dragon-catching plot of the sequel, although any familiarity is compensated by the fun of hearing Amadeus veteran Abraham (currently having a whale of a time on Homeland) going full villain with no restraint. His actions spark some of the series’ best set pieces to date, as fiery heists and swooping showdowns unfold at a rapid pace.
The result is a visually stunning piece of animated spectacle, lifted up by John Powell’s typically superb soundtrack. But no matter how much bigger it gets, How to Train Your Dragon never loses its sense of honesty or intimacy; at its core, this is a story of two friends who continue to support each other, even as they grow up in their own separate ways. Not unlike Toy Story, this is a saga about coming of age, understanding what to let go and what to hold on to, but this moving, thrilling, beautiful final flight, How to Dragon remains a beast all of its own.