Pixar’s loss of grip on their absolute monopoly of great CG animation was never more obvious than in 2010. DreamWorks Animation had produced some scrappy CGI fun but none of it had the emotional heft of the Pixar films until How to Train Your Dragon was released. With a great sequel in 2014, it wasn’t desperate to hope that How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World would cap off the series with style and integrity. And yes, it definitely has.
Hiccup’s (Jay Baruchel) leadership of the Vikings of Berk in his father’s absence is bearing real fruit, as the town has become a dragon-enhanced paradise. His relationship with Toothless, the alpha dragon, cements his role as chief, and he appears to be headed to wed Astrid (America Ferreira). He has created a crack team to rescue captured dragons from hunters under the supervision of his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett) and his successes necessitate the hiring of cruel, terrifying mercenary hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham). Recognising the threat, and realising that Toothless needs a mate too, he decides to seek out the legendary Hidden World of the dragons. What follows is a thrilling, funny cat-and-mouse pursuit as he evades Berk’s enemies and discovers more of the dragons’ secrets.
While the accents (young people sound American, older people sound Scots) are as jarring as ever, the performances are all good (especially the villainous Abraham, who was the only good thing in that dreadful Robin Hood film) and the animation is exquisite. The art direction should have any fan of Wagnerian opera in heaven and the use of colour and light makes the whole thing feel quite magical. It’s a real pleasure to spend time in this world. The animation of the dragons balances canine and feline cuteness with fire-breathing menace and, once again, the dragon flight and fight sequences are lovely with pleasingly martial and bombastic music.
Without spoiling any plot developments, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World really is a fitting end to the series, which was limited to a trilogy as a condition for director Dean Deblois’ continued involvement. In the big studios’ minds of late, everything vaguely successful seems to be aiming for a “cinematic universe” of indefinite length. This has worked for the Marvel films, but it’s been a disaster for DC, Star Wars and others, and inevitably leads to the overstretching of properties and the erosion of fans’ goodwill. Keeping a series shorter means satisfying story arcs with emotional closure and, ultimately more variety to choose from as studios move on to other things. I really have to applaud DreamWorks for actually completing something instead of milking it dry here.
If you’ve enjoyed the prior two entries in this series, you’ll love this. It’s that rare beast that keeps kids and adults enraptured by the same things.