“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” the third animated feature film based on the books by Cressida Cowell, stays aloft at mostly the same level as its predecessors.
It’s truly spectacular looking, from its opening sequence, a raid on dragon hunters during a foggy night, to its depiction of the Hidden World, with spires stretching beyond the reach of vision, each wrapped with rainbows of lights.
It also has a beautiful movement. Whether dragons soar through clouds and swoop over water, or if they’re flocking and forming patterns against the sky, this movie gets that just right. One even feels an excited dizziness.
Most importantly, the movie is about peace, understanding, love and family. Anyone that hates others for their differences are the disgraceful villains.
As with 2014’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” this movie is written and directed by Dean DeBlois, who, early in his career, worked on Disney’s “Mulan.” (The 1998 movie had a dragon named Mushu voiced by Eddie Murphy.)
DeBlois also co-wrote and co-directed Disney’s 2002 “Lilo & Stitch.” Many have pointed out that the little alien Stitch resembles Toothless, the beloved “How to Train Your Dragon” hero.
One can assume DeBlois also loves dogs: Stitch, Toothless and his other creatures are dog-like: loyal and lovable as well as troublemaking, galumphing and face-licking.
A utopia would be one where everyone enjoys all the love; that’s where this new sequel comes in.
After changing the way his Viking community thinks about dragons in the first two films, the new, inexperienced chief Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) uses trained dragons to rescue more dragons and lets them live in their village. It’s a happy place, but getting crowded.
Meanwhile, nasty bad guy Grimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham) has discovered the existence of the very last Night Fury, Toothless, and vows to kill him; Grimmel has killed every Night Fury and simply wishes to finish the job.
Having drugged and enslaved an army of his own dragons, Grimmel sends a pretty white, female Fury to tempt Toothless.
Hiccup must decide whether to fight or to save his village by finding the hidden dragon world his late father (voiced by Gerard Butler) told him about.
Sadly, the cookie-cutter, clunky story drives the undeveloped characters, who display little organic behavior.
Even the typically brilliant Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill aren’t funny. Wiig’s scene in which her character Ruffnut talks incessantly to get out of a prison is passably amusing. Meanwhile, Hill is much funnier with less screen time as Green Lantern in “The Lego Movie 2.”
Perhaps worse, America Ferrera and Cate Blanchett provide voices for warrior women Astrid, Hiccup’s beloved, and Valka, his mother, but have nothing to do other than support Hiccup.
The story wraps up mechanically, but in its final moments, as humans and dragons look into each other’s eyes, the good, decent humans watching will find themselves smiling and their hearts melting. For a little while, things seem like they could be OK.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Starring: Voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham, Cate Blanchett
Written and directed by: Dean DeBlois
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes