The high-flying but understated franchise stays true to itself to the end

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Opens Feb. 22
3 out of 5

One of the most consistently solid animated sagas to hit theatres is coming to an end. The low key How to Train Your Dragon franchise put  adventure ahead of comedy and characterization over dialogue, and the results were reliably watchable. This third and supposedly final episode is an appropriately bittersweet affair. The seeds of heartbreak have been sown throughout the saga, and it’s payoff time.

While not the flashiest character of the bunch (that would be the sleek “night fury” Toothless), the franchise lives and dies with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the human lead. The first movie saw him become an adult; the second, a community chief. Now, The Hidden World makes him a good leader. But growth has always come at great personal expense, and this time is no different.

Having turned the Viking village of Berk into a messy utopia where humans and dragons live together in harmony, Hiccup and his gang are now focusing their efforts on freeing wild creatures from trappers. They are successful enough that the trappers hire Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a hunter who nearly exterminated the night furies years ago, to thwart Hiccup’s plan.

Unlike previous foes, Grimmel is more brains than brawn, and he’s zeroed-in on the chink in Berk’s armour: the symbiotic relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. It doesn’t take anything more than introducing a love interest for the dragon to yearn for independence.

There is some broadly drawn metaphorical content: Grimmel is a strong believer in human superiority and dragon segregation (he even looks like Julian Assange). The hidden world of the title is a mythical area on the edge of the world where all dragons come from. Hiccup wants to take his people there for safety, without putting much thought into whether he even should.

The film takes a number of visual gambles: it opens with a “single shot” take that’s a kinetic marvel and delivers a constant stream of eye-popping sequences (the aforementioned hidden world is epic). Yet simplicity is where How to Train Your Dragon shines: the courtship of Toothless and his lady dragon (a “light fury”) is a delightful mix of silent-era comedy and state-of-the-art animation. Cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins (Fargo, Jarhead) was a consultant for all three movies and his influence is all over the place, particularly in the sweeping vistas and fluid action.

The saga’s supporting characters get  short shrift. While Hiccup’s bride-to-be Astrid (America Ferrera) steps up, the rest of the gang has little to do. At least Kristen Wiig gets to be impossibly annoying, and her sparring with F. Murray Abraham — who hasn’t milked a line of dialogue this much since playing Salieri — is an unexpected highlight.

Considering the  second episode’s high drama, The Hidden World might come across as a letdown. It’s nevertheless a perfectly suitable conclusion to a saga that stayed true to itself and is leaving on its own terms.