While the story is a bit more conventional than those of the previous two films, this entry still has all of the elements that made its predecessors successful and adds notes of finality that distinguish it from the rest. Dean DeBlois has returned as the sole writer and director and his commitment to spearheading these projects has resulted in a trio of films that has bypassed the dips in quality that accompany even the most well regarded trilogies.
We return to the Viking village of Berk as the efforts of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his pet dragon Toothless to rescue captured dragons has resulted in their town becoming increasingly overpopulated. As Berk’s head chief, Hiccup makes it his mission to seek out the fabled “Hidden World,” a far away land that could serve as a safe haven for their fire-breathing compatriots.
During his journey, Hiccup encounters the treacherous and cunning dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) as well as a brightly colored dragon nicknamed “Light Fury,” with whom Toothless becomes hopelessly infatuated.
The How To Train Your Dragon series has stood apart from its animated peers mainly due to the quality of its visual sensibility. The Hidden World is no exception.
The film’s opening, in which Hiccup and his friends ambush a dragon raider’s cove, gets things off to a dazzling start as fire and fog battle in the background while swords clash in the foreground.
The growing number of dragons on-screen also allows for creature design that grows richer the more time we spend in this world. But the high point is undoubtedly our first glances of the Hidden World, a bright and vivid landscape that calls back to the groundbreaking CG work of Avatar in the best ways possible.
As stunning as the animation is, the storytelling this time around is not quite up to the standard set by the previous two entries. Despite some deliciously devious voice work from Abraham, it’s difficult to disguise the fact that the villain and his motivations are hardly dissimilar from those of the previous film’s antagonist.
Still, the introduction of romantic subplots for both Hiccup and Toothless create opportunities to take the story in both humorous and heartfelt directions. Toothless’ efforts to impress Light Fury with a mating dance result in the film’s biggest laughs while their synchronized movements across the night sky recall the affectionate space dance from Pixar’s WALL-E.
Returning to contribute music to the film, composer John Powell brings back some of the series’ most memorable musical motifs while adding new themes that augment the emotion underneath each of their accompanying scenes.
The film also has sonic delights in its accomplished sound design as well, which brings to life the flapping of dozens of dragons’ wings as they maneuver through the air.
As a satisfying ending to a family-friendly entertainment that has always had its sights set higher, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World passes with flying colors.
Also coming to theaters this weekend
Fighting with My Family, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Florence Pugh, tells the real life story of professional wrestler Paige as she rises up the ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Run the Race, starring Mykelti Williamson and Frances Fisher, is a faith-based feature co-produced by Tim Tebow about two brothers who overcome hardship both on and off the football field.
Opening at Cinema Center is Academy Award-nominee Cold War, a historical period drama from Poland about a musical director who discovers and subsequently falls in love with a young singer.
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