How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World brings an emotional honesty rare to kids' films and a visual appeal of the highest caliber. A coming-of-age story for both the boy and his dragon, it's also another lesson about the possibility of finding something deeper in interactions with nature.
Writer/Director Dean DeBlois (How to Train Your Dragon, Lilo & Stitch) delivers another sumptuous visual treat, filled with wonder, fantasy and enough awkward moments to make you want to facepalm. The flying scenes are more engaging and gorgeous than its predecessors, while the emotional scenes have more to build on, as the characters are now maturing into adulthood.
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has taken over as the leader of his village after the unfortunate passing of his father at the hands (or more accurately the fiery breath) of his dragon, Toothless. His leadership style is the exact opposite of his dad and he sets about rescuing all the dragons his village once vowed to slay. There is trouble in paradise though, as their dragon population is growing faster than their resources.
Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) is a dragon hunter bent on capturing Hiccups' best friend Toothless, the rare Night Fury. He has an army of Vikings and dragons who serve him, though his plan is to lure Toothless out with another rare dragon: the female Light Fury.
Hiccups's friend and inevitable love interest Astrid (America Ferrera) provides a strong female character to yank Hiccup out of his boyish ways and into manhood. Their intentionally laughable romance mirrors the dragon romance between Toothless and the new Light Fury dragon he falls for.
What transpires is nothing less than an epic journey across the ocean and to the edge of the earth as they search for the "Hidden World." This may be an allegory for the hidden passions buried in their youthful hearts and the strong connections they continue to form toward their promised land. It is also a literal journey with some simple positive messages including respecting the land and its inhabitants and learning to let go of what you love.
The one forgivable bump may be in reintroducing so many characters in a film that only runs for 104 minutes, although they all have enough snark, or emotional presence to justify their continued existence in the series. Despite the constant peril at every moment, almost everyone miraculously makes it out alive.
The PG rating allows the film to stay true to its original form, but still leaves plenty of age-appropriate laughs for kids, as well as enough storyline to keep the adults interested. Although this was promised to be the final film in the series, the high-yield franchise that fans have grown to love could easily be extended for another few movies.