‘The friendship of a lifetime’ reads the tagline for DreamWorks’ latest How To Train Your Dragon instalment. Trilogy capper The Hidden World, it seemed to suggest, was going to be big on emotion and fans of the franchise everywhere started gearing up for a sob-fest. As the release date approached, writer-director Dean DeBlois confirmed that this would be the last time we’d adventure with lovable Viking Hiccup and his big-eyed bud Toothless… Safe to say, tissues were ordered in bulk. So it’s curious then that – while the film does have the odd tearjerker moment – it largely plays for youngster-aimed laughs as opposed to anything else.
Set one year after the events in How To Train Your Dragon 2 – which saw Hiccup find his long-lost mother but later, tragically lose his father – Berk’s ever-growing number of winged beasts has made it the target of nefarious dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (Abraham). Desperate to find a way to protect them all, Hiccup – still finding his feet as Chief – urges the villagers to leave their beloved home in search of a fabled safe haven for dragons that his pops used to tell him about when he was a boy.
Elsewhere, Toothless stumbles across a female of his kind – a Light Fury – and embarks on his own romantic subplot as he tries to woo the glittering creature and come to terms with the fact that he’s distancing himself from Hiccup in the process. The film’s best bits undoubtedly centre on the smitten fire-breathers, as they bounce between scenes that see an out-of-practice Toothless attempt a courtship display and a dreamy, dance-like flight in the moonlight.
Hiccup and the other humans don’t fare so well. Much of the movie is moved along at a clunky pace by them coming up against far-too-easily-overcome obstacles. Between them, Hiccup agonises over what to do, concocts a plan, executes it and then finds himself ready to repeat the cycle. It’s so formulaic that even Grimmel, who is supposedly one of the most feared men in the land, barely gets a chance to show his face, let alone pose a threat. Hiccup and Astrid (Ferrera) share a couple of sweet exchanges towards the beginning but soon, even they fall into a monotony that presents Hiccup as the struggling leader and Astrid as the personality-less crutch.
The lack of depth awarded to them is likely a consequence of how much time is spent with several supporting characters, which we’ve never really cared all that much about anyway. Bafflingly, twins Ruffnut (Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple) constantly drag our attention away with their silly, bicker-filled banter and an ongoing joke about them always supporting Hiccup, as does Snotlout (Hill), whose entire characterisation in this is that he has a crush on Hiccup’s mother.
Perhaps most frustratingly though, is how little interaction occurs between Hiccup and Toothless. While The Hidden World’s underlying message is about letting go of something you love, for the right reasons, it would have made certain sacrifices and that climactic goodbye much more powerful if we had been reminded how close they were before they came around.
It may be the weakest in the series (which is not so much a reflection on itself but rather confirmation that the first two films are extraordinary) and the plot is far too thin to warrant it being DreamWorks’ longest animated film yet. But the animation is as beautiful as ever – be it during a shadowy, fire-lit rescue raid or a colourful, glow-in-the-dark dragon den. The charm that drew us in all those years ago still lingers in the air and while it would have been nice for the final chapter to reach new heights and stick the landing, it’s still worth one last ride.