Dragons aren’t quiet. But the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies, in their own quiet way, have constituted one of the most consistently satisfying animated series of recent years.
Although they never gained the cultural visibility of Disney or Pixar or those unavoidable Minions, Dreamworks’ “Dragon” films have been very commercially successful. More than that, they built an appealing Hero’s Journey by allowing the characters to age.
The trilogy comes to a close with “How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World.” And this does seem like an actual ending, with a story that rounds itself off, instead of keeping strands hanging for the sake of an endless franchise.
Time has passed since the last adventure, and Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless are enjoying life in their prehistoric dragon-friendly Viking enclave. The local elders are strongly hinting that it’s time for Hiccup to marry his longtime frenemy Astrid (America Ferrera).
But first, there’s a threat: A dragonslayer (scary-sounding F. Murray Abraham, in fiendish form) wants to capture Toothless. Could it be time for Hiccup to lead his people to the fabled “hidden kingdom” his father (Gerard Butler) told him about?
Director Dean DeBlois, returning from the first two films, keeps the action and the jokes going in equal measure. Hiccup’s group of pals still includes characters voiced by the likes of Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill and Craig Ferguson, all very much in the spirit of things.
At one point the film stops cold for a wordless sequence between Toothless and his new sparkly white dragon-lady friend. By turns silly and lyrical, this is one of those scenes you can take time for when your previous two installments have grossed over a billion dollars — it exists only for its own lovely sake.
It must be said that the animation is stupendous, not just because it’s state-of-the-art but because it’s so imaginatively deployed. There are battle sequences as lively as “The Lord of the Rings,” and when we get to the dragon’s lair the screen erupts with groovy glow-in-the-dark effects.
In allowing its characters to grow older, the “Dragon” films earn the sentiment of the final scenes here. I really hope there aren’t future installments, because the trilogy allows you to imagine what happens after the main action is over — and leaves you halfway convinced there might still be dragons hiding somewhere in the world.
“How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World” (3 stars)
Strong final installment in the “Dragon” trilogy, as Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon buddy must stave off a threat from a fiendish hunter (F. Murray Abraham). The movie balances jokes and action in equal measures, and the animation is stupendous.
Rating: PG, for violence