Returning director-screenwriter Dean DeBlois brings the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy to a satisfying conclusion with this accomplished and moving final instalment, based on the books by Cressida Cowell.
Picking up a few months after the end of the previous film, The Hidden World finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as the new chief and leader of Berk, which he has turned into a dragon-friendly utopia with the aid of his faithful Night Fury dragon Toothless. However, when dastardly dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) threatens the sanctity of Berk, Hiccup is forced to make a difficult decision. Meanwhile, Toothless finds himself increasingly distracted by the appearance of a blue-eyed, white-skinned female dragon, dubbed a Light Fury by Hiccup's partner Astrid (America Ferrera).
As with the previous films, the voicework is superb, even if it's still a little bit annoying that all the older characters have thick Scottish accents and the younger ones are American. Baruchel in particular is terrific, modulating his performance to reflect just how much Hiccup has grown since the first film, while there's strong comic support from the likes of Jonah Hill, Justin Rupple, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kristen Wiig (who has a great comic set-piece all to herself) as his friends.
The fact that this is an animated universe in which the characters have actually aged is also reflected in the impressive character designs, with Hiccup now sporting a touch of chin stubble as well as being a little taller. Similarly, the standard of animation has improved considerably since the first film (back in 2010) and the third instalment takes full advantage of that, rendering some spectacularly beautiful scenery and jaw-dropping visuals, particularly in the Hidden World that gives the film its subtitle.
The script addresses a number of emotionally resonant themes – about growing up, accepting responsibility etc – but there's nothing quite as traumatic as the previous film's shocking death this time round, something that will no doubt come as something of a relief to accompanying parents.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his stewardship of the overall trilogy, DeBlois displays a strong command of the tone throughout, as comfortable delivering a charming, romantic courtship scene as he is with an exciting action sequence. The courtship scene (between two dragons) is particularly impressive as it involves several minutes without dialogue, a clear sign of DeBlois' overall confidence.
If there's a problem with the film, it's only that the two stories don't connect quite as successfully as the initial set-up seems to promise – for example, there's a connection between Grimmel and the Light Fury that's never fully explored, so you're primed to expect a dramatic reveal that never comes. Similarly, Grimmel himself never really delivers on the threat he seems to be from his early appearances, so the emotional and dramatic stakes feel a little underwhelming. That same problem with set-up and pay-off is also evident in one of the film's running jokes, about a Tribble-like dragon that keeps self-replicating – you think it's building to something great, but the final gag seems to be missing.
Those small niggles aside, this is a superbly made and emotionally engaging conclusion to a thoroughly entertaining trilogy, and DeBlois closes with an utterly charming final sequence that's worth the price of admission alone.