The Hidden World closes out the consistently excellent How to Train Your Dragon series with a timely, gorgeous entry. In fact, it's the finest film in the franchise and the best thing DreamWorks animation has ever done.
Hiccup is now a full-grown adult, struggling with his responsibilities as the new chief of Berk, and not quite ready for a lifetime commitment to his girlfriend and partner in battle Astrid (America Ferrera). Where he and his pals once used dragons to goof off and race each other, they're now liberators. The opening scene almost plays like a riff on Mission: Impossible, with the crew infiltrating a ship full of captive dragons and freeing them.
But their efforts attract the attention of Grimmel (Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham, using his glorious voice to ominous effect), a ruthless dragon hunter whose evil speeches echo real-life white supremacist rhetoric. He's a lot more imposing than the villain in the last film, allowing a minor loss or two in order to deliver a crushing blow later for maximum physical and emotional damage. He's fueled not just by his hatred of dragons, but also in the cruel thrill he gets from hurting dragons in front of people who love them.
To protect the people and dragons of Berk, Hiccup asks them all to trust them as they form a caravan in search of a new world where they'll be safe. Their final destination is the hidden world, which his father Stoick (Gerard Butler, who appears in flashbacks) told him of as a boy. When Hiccup and Astrid finally catch a glimpse of this magical place, the animation is among the most beautiful of the CG era. (It certainly doesn't hurt that there's another Jónsi song playing on the soundtrack.)
But nothing comes close to the pure joy of seeing Toothless and a new female Fury fly around each other in a sort of pre-mating ritual, soaring above the clouds, into a storm and through Aurora Borealis. It's right up there with WALL-E and EVE's fire extinguisher dance in WALL-E.
Even if there's an air of predictability to these films – they are for kids, after all – it's heartening to see such mature themes handled in addition to the traditional family movie lessons about believing in yourself and asking for help when you need it. This is a spectacular finale for a special franchise.