4 Stars

It’s easy to remember the days when DreamWorks wasn’t necessarily the highest standard for animated family fare. Back in its early days, they were known for essentially making mockbusters of Disney and Pixar films, with movies like Antz and Shark Tale. As the years went by, the studio was able to rise to their own success with Shrek and Madagascar (each spawning their own franchises). Though they still suffered from films like the infamous Bee Movie, which has become the butt of Internet jokes everywhere.

However, DreamWorks rose to higher prominence when they produced two new franchises: Kung Fu Panda in 2008 and How to Train Your Dragon in 2010. Both series proved that the studio could create fun, original stories that didn’t try to copy others, none more so than the latter. The Dragon series is known for being more reliant on drama than most family films, focusing on darker stories and striking visuals. Both the first and second films are some of the best animated movies of today (the second one having been robbed of the Oscar). Now, this breathtaking story about humans and dragons comes to a close with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

After defeating the evil Drago and becoming chief of Berk, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless is working to turn his home into a safe haven for dragons. However, his continued raids on dragon hunters captures the attention of one; a ruthless killer named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham). With his heart set on taking Toothless for himself, Hiccup decides that Berk is no longer safe and works to move his people to a hidden world of dragons, thought to be only legend.

However, things become complicated when Toothless discovers a female of his species, dubbed a Light Fury. Hiccup now finds his priorities mixed. He doesn’t want to let his citizens fall prey to this vicious new threat, but he doesn’t want to let his beloved friend go. With Toothless set on finding this elusive mate, Hiccup will help him, and learn what it truly means to be a leader, and to let go of the ones you love.

Unlike most DreamWorks franchises, which seem to progressively get worse as they go on, How to Train Your Dragon has gotten better. The second film far surpasses the first in terms of emotional and storytelling prowess. It was impressive to see all of the directions this series took throughout its run. That being said, this set the expectations very high for this new one, especially since it is the last chapter in the saga.

And with that, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World concludes this masterful trilogy in the most epic, exciting, and emotional way possible. Not since the Toy Story trilogy has an animated franchise perfectly offered kids all the fun they could want while staying true to its story and characters, enough so that adults will find just as much fun. It all comes to a thrilling ending that will pull at the heartstrings of pretty much everyone.

Once again, the voice acting is top notch. The cast is perfectly chosen for the characters, as each person captures their respective animated counterpart’s personality. Baruchel voices Hiccup in what is arguably the best role of his career, as his voice captures the heroes meek nature and strong will. No other actor, no matter how talented, could have done Hiccup as well as he did.

One of the highlights of this films is the animation. The world of Berk is so beautifully animated and looks so real. Sometimes it’s scary how realistic computer animation is getting these days. However, the sequence when they enter the Hidden World is nothing short of breathtaking. It’s so bright and vibrant that it nearly brought a tear to my eyes. It is definitely one of the best looking things that DreamWorks has ever put together.

Unlike a lot of films these days, this one had an effective message. Sure most family movies try to teach us about what is becoming acceptable in today’s world, but they often settle for repeating it over and over and over again until their reasonably good intentions start to overstay their welcome. This film had a nice message about co-existing with things different from us, and didn’t waste time trying to shove it down our throats. They gently handed it to us in a way that doesn’t shame one side of certain social issues, but in a way that could be applied to both sides.

What this movie does, probably better than any other franchise conclusion, is end its story the way it was meant to. It doesn’t leave anything open for more sequels, nor does it leave anything open to interpretation, or goes against the audience’s expectations. This film brings its whole saga to a fitting end without leaving anything open for expansion, something we don’t get a lot these days in our franchise-fueled era.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World delivers absolutely everything that fans of the series would want from the final chapter. It brings us the pitch perfect voice acting and beautiful animation of the previous two films, in addition to yet another masterful story that takes a number of risks that most family films won’t even try. It’s easy to say that kids will cry during this movie, but the way it brings everything to a satisfying conclusion, parents may even find themselves tearing up as well.