For all its mythical fire-breathing reptiles, the How To Train Your Dragon series is a coming-of-age story at heart. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), originally a kid on the cusp of adolescence, and Toothless, his adorable Night Fury, have grown up incrementally with each instalment — a boy-and-his-cat-dragon duo who rank among DreamWorks Animation’s most emotionally engaging partnerships.
The Hidden World takes Hiccup into young adulthood, wielding his flame-sword confidently as chief of the Isle of Berk — but he and Toothless face diverging futures. Marriage could be on the cards for Hiccup if he can stop dithering and finally propose to Astrid (America Ferrera), while Toothless now has a romantic foil of his own. Stumbling across a Light Fury, the yin to his yang, the dragon is instantly smitten. His doe-eyed lovestruck antics, including the sort of flamboyant flirting usually reserved for a David Attenborough doc, are The Hidden World’s utterly charming highlight.
The big goodbye doesn't quite sucker-punch the tear ducts like it should.
But the Light Fury also heralds the emergence of hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) — a menacing villain with his own set of dragons that spew bright-green, Xenomorph-blood acid. Despite his peroxide-blonde hair, Grimmel is no Targaryen — his attitude to dragons is far from friendly, forcing Hiccup to seek new horizons for Berk and its people.
Despite the dramatic urgency Grimmel brings, the film struggles to streamline its plot threads and character pay-offs. It takes a little long to really get going, while irritating supporting characters like Tuffnut and Ruffnut (Justin Rupple, Kristen Wiig) clutter the screen — if the franchise’s initial audience has since grown up, the dialogue here skews frustratingly young. There are highlights — the opening misty dragon raid by Hiccup and pals, the DayGlo arrival to the titular Hidden World — though the original’s exhilarating flying sequences remain unmatched.
Crucially, with so much going on and a reluctance to bench its minor players, The Hidden World barely leaves room for the contemplative character moments an ending chapter deserves. When that big goodbye finally arrives, it doesn’t quite sucker-punch the tear ducts in the way it should. Compared to the elegiac climax of Toy Story 3 — and Dragon is as close as DreamWorks comes to Pixar-level sentiment — this farewell to Hiccup and Toothless’ childhood friendship could burn a little brighter.