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"HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD"
(2019) (voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer Animated Adventure: A young man tries to protect his pet dragon from a dragon slayer who's intent on killing it.
PLOT:
With the passing of his father and having now been reunited with his mother, Valka (voice of CATE BLANCHETT), young twenty-something Hiccup (voice of JAY BARUCHEL) is the ruler of the Viking island of Berk. Having previously proved to the Vikings -- including his late father's right-hand man Gobber (voice of CRAIG FERGUSON) -- that people and dragons can peacefully coexist, Hiccup and others -- including his girlfriend Astrid (voice of AMERICA FERRERA), obnoxious fraternal twins Ruffnut (voice of KRISTEN WIIG) and Toughnut (voice of JUSTIN RUPPLE), Fishlegs (voice of CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE) and Snoutlout (voice of JONAH HILL) -- routinely rescue dragons and bring them back to their island where Hiccup's rare Night Fury dragon Toothless is their king.

But during their last rescue mission, they failed to spot another Night Fury, and longtime dragon slayer Grimmel (voice of F. MURRAY ABRAHAM) intends to use that female to lure in Toothless so that he can finally finish off the last of their kind. After a perilous run-in with that villain, Hiccup decides they must move Toothless and the other dragons to a hidden world his father once spoke of and where the dragons will be safe forever.

No one knows if that place is real, however, and while trying to protect Toothless from Grimmel and his ferocious Deathgripper dragons, Hiccup must come to grips with the fact that he might have to say goodbye to his beloved dragon forever.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Aside from a handful of exceptions, once a film series gets to its third installment or higher, it's usually more about making money off a well-known brand rather than needing to continue the underlying story from any sort of creative or artistic sense. While I'm not crazy about that logic, I fully understand it as it's a way for studios to increase their ROI as related to the costs of the initial film and generate enough cash to bring new cinematic stories to light.

Thus, when art and commerce manage to mix successfully, it's a win-win scenario both for those involved in the making of such a film as well as critics and everyday audiences who want to be entertained by something more than a simple cash-grab.

Thankfully, the third (and reportedly last) installment in the "How to Train Your Dragon" film series -- this one given the added title of "The Hidden World" rather than some form of the number three -- should appease everyone. With the first two films being successful commercially (to the tune of north of $1.1 billion combined internationally) and artistically (both received Academy Award nominations), the chances of the follow-up entry doing the same seemed reasonable and so far every indication is that this offering will continue that trend.

It takes up not long after the events of the second film where our now young adult hero (again voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his former rivals turned friends (voiced by the returning America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, and Justin Rupple) now routinely rescue dragons from confinement and return them to their island home of Berk. Thankfully, returning writer/director Dean DeBlois doesn't insert any sort of related social or political commentary about immigration or the like into the storyline.

Instead, and keeping things timeless and apolitical, he instead opts for the tried and true (if not particularly novel or creative, but still serviceable) -- a diabolical dragon slayer villain (voiced by F. Murray Abraham as if channeling Javier Bardem) named Grimmel who, natch, likes to kill dragons. In particular Night Furies -- like Hiccup's pet one, Toothless -- since they're rare, and what better way to lure that one in than to use a female one as a potential (and distracting) mate.

The latter provides for one of two fairly lovely sequences where the visuals do all of the talking (the other being the entry and subsequent fly-through of the title area), as well as a bit of Cyrano (or Steve Martin's "Roxanne") inspired comedy where Hiccup remotely feeds Toothless visual cues about how to woo the lovely lady Fury.

Other comic relief is present -- including Wiig getting additional screen time as the Viking equivalent of a chatterbox valley girl -- but some viewers might be disappointed that a major character introduced in the last film -- Cate Blanchett as the protagonist's long-lost mother -- is pretty much relegated to being a background figure.

But it's the relationship between the boy and his dog -- uh, young adult Viking and his dragon -- that's the center and heart of the story and that part works just as well as before. All of which means the conclusion might leave a lot of viewers -- child and adult alike -- with some leaky eyes and sniffles.

I mean that in a good way, which also applies to the handsome computer-animation, solid vocal work and decent action scenes. While I might not have envisioned the original film being turned into the first installment of a trilogy, I'm happy to report that the third installment wraps things up on an entertaining and emotionally involving high note. "How To Train Your Dragon: The Lost World" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed February 18, 2019 / Posted February 22, 2019


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