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With: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, Justin Rupple, Kit Harington, David Tennant
Written by: Dean DeBlois, based on the books by Cressida Cowell
Directed by: Dean DeBlois
MPAA Rating: PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor
Running Time: 104
Date: 02/22/2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Welcome Dragons

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third 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 a group of dragon hunters during a foggy night, to its depiction of the Hidden World, a place of endless spires stretching beyond the reach of vision, each wrapped with rainbows of colored lights.

It also has a beautiful sense of movement, and flight. Whether dragons are soaring through clouds and swooping over bodies of water, or if they're flocking and forming patterns against the sky, this movie gets it just right. One can even feel a sense of excited dizziness.

Most importantly, the movie has a good heart. It's about peace and understanding and love and family. Anyone that hates others for their differences are the disgraceful villains of the piece.

As with 2014's How to Train Your Dragon 2, this movie has just one person, Dean DeBlois, credited as both writer and director. Early in his career, DeBlois worked on Disney's Mulan, from 1998, which had its own dragon, named Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy).

From there, he co-wrote and co-directed Disney's Lilo & Stitch, released in 2002. As many have pointed out, the little alien Stitch closely resembles Toothless, the beloved dragon hero of all three How to Train Your Dragon movies.

In addition to dragons, it's safe to assume that DeBlois probably also loves dogs. Stitch, Toothless, and many of his other creatures are extremely dog-like, loyal and lovable, as well as troublemaking, galumphing, and face-licking.

Obviously a utopia would be one in which all that love could be enjoyed by everyone. And 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) has taken to using trained dragons to rescue more dragons, and letting them all live in their village.

While it's a happy place, it's also getting a bit crowded. Meanwhile, a 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 other Night Fury in existence and simply wishes to finish the job.

He's so evil, he has drugged and enslaved an army of his own dragons, to help destroy things when needed, and sends a pretty white, female Fury to tempt Toothless.

Hiccup must decide whether to fight, or whether to save everyone by finding the hidden dragon world his late father (voiced by Gerard Butler) told him about.

This is where the movie falls short. The story is cookie-cutter clunky, and it is what drives the characters, rather than vice-versa. Their behavior exists only to dictate the next turn of plot. There's no organic behavior or moments of character interaction or development.

The movie even has brilliantly funny actors like Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill in its voice cast, and they're simply not funny. Wiig has a pretty good scene in which her character, Ruffnut, talks incessantly to get out of a prison, but it's just 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 two powerful warrior women, Astrid, Hiccup's beloved, and Valka, his mother, but they have nothing to do other than to support Hiccup.

As the story wraps up, it does so mechanically, but then there are those final moments when humans and dragons look into each other's eyes. And all the good, decent humans watching will find themselves smiling and their hearts melting. And for a little while, things seem like they could be OK.

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