The Hidden World brings animated series to satisfying conclusion

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the third feature film in the decadelong series — which also includes a 40-episode TV series and some digital video releases — and it continues to provide fun and emotion in the way of its predecessors.

With four- and five-year gaps between films, each one came out with enough distance for the previous film to nearly disappear from the mind, before a quick recap or reference would help make them all fresh again. The Hidden World, like the other Dragon films, will be easy to forget in a short period of time, but it’s a nice ride while it lasts.

As with all previous Dragon films, the conflict comes between those who believe in the potential good of dragons and those who see them as vicious beasts of war. Jay Baruchel plays Hiccup, a runt of a Viking who became his island’s chief through his ingenuity, dragon training and being the son of the late chief. Hiccup has a sweetness to him, and his relationship with his dragon, Toothless, has been the emotional anchor of the entire series. As in the series' first two entries, he continues to be awkward, but he doesn’t have much new up his sleeves.

The Hidden World acts as a rehash of sorts, bringing up several familiar plot elements. As in previous films, a significant dramatic turn rests on Toothless being captured and the chase to get him back. Still, The Hidden World can be commended for the seemingly minor change of recasting the role of Tuffnut — T.J. Miller, the character’s original voice, made headlines with separate allegations that he had committed sexual assault, sent out a transphobic email to a critic and called in a false bomb threat.

The villain is Grimmel, a man hell-bent on killing most dragons for pretty shallow reasons. He’s voiced by F. Murray Abraham, but the actor’s wonderful voice doesn’t make much of an impression in the role. There’s a coolness with which Grimmel can fire off a tranquilizing shot or how easily he follows the hero and his friends on the run, but it goes nowhere exciting.

The joys of The Hidden World are in the small moments and the bits that aren’t driving the central story forward. Tuffnut and his twin sister, Ruffnut — the latter voiced unabashedly by Kristen Wiig — are highlights, their distracted comments and arguments bringing enjoyable energy to the dialogue in writer-director Dean DeBlois’ script. Jonah Hill brings similar joy in his role as Snotlout, even as the youthful character comes on to Hiccup’s mom repeatedly.

The strangest thing about the whole film is its insistence upon pushing subplots of romantic or physical attraction, even as The Hidden World touts a PG rating. Toothless dances a mating dance for a female dragon and one character states about the species, “Night Furies mate for life.” Snotlout and Ruffnut repeatedly express their own amorous feelings at repeated intervals.

There’s a near-explicitness to the feelings being presented, more so than in animated films like Incredibles 2, for which The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane produced a particularly off-putting review.

Filled with stunning visuals, The Hidden World continues to up the quality of the animation from the previous entry. Dreamworks Animation films made with computer animation tend to age poorly as technology improves — compare Madagascar to Pixar’s The Incredibles or see the three-dimensional animation in The Prince of Egypt or The Road to El Dorado — but the How to Train Your Dragon series takes that in stride, as each entry looks better than the last. When the characters finally discover the hidden world, as they must with a movie named as such, the screen amazes with neon colors and fantastical structures.

Composer John Powell returns to the series once again with a wonderful score. While the music throughout creates a great atmosphere for the film, full of Celtic motifs, it is the theme that traces its way back to the original film’s “Test Drive” and the second’s reworking in the track “Where No One Goes” that really shows off Powell’s composition in a meaningful way.

The theme is the musical equivalent of flying fast, wind blowing through hair, feeling the thrill of climbing higher and pushing farther ahead.

Although The Hidden World makes itself out to be the end of a trilogy, there will likely be more from the world of Cressida Cowell’s book series, whether in a movie, TV series or otherwise. It’s a joy to watch, even as it starts to slip away from memory. Sure, it’s flawed, but it also delivers an epilogue — before the credits roll — that makes the decadelong span of the series completely worth the time.