Grade: B+
Entire family: Yes
2019, 104 min., Color
Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Amazon link

How to Train Your Dragon is that rare animated trilogy that critics and audiences have pronounced consistently entertaining. The first installment, released in 2010, garnered a 99 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes with 91 percent of the general public applauding. But the second and third installments weren’t far off, with 92/91 percent critic ratings and 89/87 popular scores. The only surprise for fans, really, was that it took three years longer for the trilogy “capper” to be released.

But there’s a simple explanation for that: DreamWorks, an independent animation studio whose titles were first self-distributed, then released through Paramount Pictures and later 20th Century Fox, was acquired by Comcast/NBC Universal. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was the first Universal release of a DreamWorks title, and presumably that positions the How to Train Your Dragon franchise to become a “world” at Universal theme parks.

The action takes place a year after the end of the second film, when Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) was made leader of his people. Hiccup and his patched-up dragon, Toothless, have continued their dragon rescue operation, but by bringing them back to their dragon-friendly island of Berk they have also created an overpopulation problem. The solution? Hiccup recalls a “hidden world” for dragons that his deceased father had told him about, so when an all-out confrontation with the dragon-trapping Grimmel the Grisly and his warlords leaves their village in shambles, Hiccup and the rest set out to find that dragon utopia.

Grimmel, of course, is not one to give up so easily, but that’s only one of the plot’s complications. In addition, Hiccup’s beloved dragon, Toothless, is a Dark Fury who finds himself attracted to a Light Fury that Grimmel has captured and uses to try to trap him. Dragon romance is in the air, and that means Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship must change.

Fans of the first two installments will find The Hidden World comparable in terms of the animation, the music, the characters, and the action. Returning to give voice to their characters are America Ferrera as Astrid, Hiccup’s fiancée and fellow warrior and dragon rider; Cate Blanchett as Valka, Hiccup’s mother and fellow dragon rescuer who has returned to Berk after living in isolation for most of his life; F. Murray Abraham as Grimmel, who is relentless in his pursuit of dragons; Jonah Hill as Snotlout, Hiccup’s loud and not-too-bright friend; and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, and Justin Rupple as Hiccup’s other friends.

All that said, I found the third installment to be less complex, with action driving the narrative more than it did in the first two films, when character and situations complicated matters. There’s also a sense of the familiar in the third installment, with the whole Toothless torn between staying with his human rider/friend and following the call of nature to be with his kind. And when we finally get a glimpse of the Hidden World, it’s hard not to have Avatar flashbacks.

Still, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was the fifth highest grossing film of 2019, with a strong box office that was only topped by a sci-fi Chinese film titled The Wandering Earth, Disney’s live-action Aladdin, and Marvel Universe entries Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame.

Language: Unless you’re offended by “Oh my Gods” (yes, plural—these are Viking types) the language is squeaky clean

Sex: Nothing here except some innuendo that will fly right over the heads of children

Violence: Dragons and humans engage in battle, and while killing is implied nothing is shown onscreen

Adult Situations: Since these are Norsemen types, there is some drinking, with a few characters appearing to have imbibed a bit too much 

Takeaways: With this series a wrap, it will be interesting to see what DreamWorks comes up with next, as the animators have shown that they can match Disney when it comes to creating believable worlds and expressive characters