The “How to Train Your Dragon” animated films serve as an adaptation of the series of books by the same name written by Cressida Cowell. Regardless of loyalty to their source material, these films have made their own name for themselves amidst the vast variety of animated films released. The original “How to Train Your Dragon” film, released in 2010, I saw as a pretty paint-by-numbers story told in an epic fashion. The bond shared by the protagonist, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), and his Dragon friend, Toothless, provides an emotional heft to the first film that makes it impossible not to love these two characters. Their journey continued in “How to Train Your Dragon 2” in 2014, which I may like even more than the first. The characters learn so much more about their heritage and past, providing an engaging and thrilling story throughout its runtime. Not to mention, the animation is stellar in each entry of the franchise. Now, animated films packed a major punch last year with critical hits like, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “Incredibles 2” and “Isle of Dogs.” This artistic medium is definitely in the forefront of audience’s eyes more than ever, especially with titles like, “The Lego Movie: The Second Part,” “Frozen 2” and “Toy Story 4,” set to hit theaters in 2019. “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” should absolutely be placed at the top of anyone’s must see list of 2019 because of its sheer scope and powerful emotional climax.

Before I dive into the story, it is impossible to talk about this movie and not mention how stunning the animation is. It’s incredible to see how the animation has improved since the first film. Landscapes are big and generated with such beauty that it looks real. There were quite a few moments during my viewing experience where I was convinced that it wasn’t animated. The rendering of every character’s face and features is done with so much care, from the peach fuzz on Snotlout’s (Jonah Hill) lip, to the individual ridges along Toothless’ back. Scenes with dragons flying against a landscape are grand and jaw dropping. This should definitely be seen as a landmark for animation as I don’t think that computer generated environments and character details have ever looked so good on the big screen before.

This time around, Hiccup and his friends continue their mission to rescue dragons from captivity, until they’re tracked by a dragon hunter, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham). The vikings must work together to escape Grimmel and find a new homeland for themselves and the dragons to coexist. Hiccup must come to terms with his current position as chief after the events of “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” while Toothless forms a special bond with another dragon of his species, nicknamed Light Fury. The film is really about growing up and making choices for yourself while still making time for the ones you care about.

Hiccup shines as the protagonist in the final chapter of this trilogy. His interactions with Toothless are well realized and never forced. The moments they share are natural and filled with heart. Some of the more moving moments of their relationship are built through visual callbacks to the first two films, only strengthening how this film fits into the trilogy. Hiccup’s relationship with fellow viking, Astrid (America Ferrera), is also more fleshed out in this entry. She understands Hiccup’s stressful situation as chief, but is also always there to have his back. It’s a realistic development of their bond from the first two films and their story is closed with perfection.

The villain Grimmel is completely nerve racking. From his first scene, the film shows that this guy is bad news and this feeling of uneasiness follows him throughout the rest of the film. He is always one step ahead of everyone and his pursuit of the “thrill of the hunt” makes his scenes even more scary. His presence brings a sense of doubt to the survival of the protagonists. No one felt safe while Grimmel was on screen. However, the way Grimmel’s story ends is my one negative for this film. The climax reaches such emotional highs and beautiful animated action sequences, but it all ends with a fizzle. Nothing about the peak of the climax felt grand like everything else. I wish the film has played out this moment a little bit more and this film would’ve have nearly gotten a perfect score.

Aside from the issue with the climax, Grimmel’s conclusion and a few very minor pacing issues, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” proves to be a pitch perfect conclusion to an emotionally poignant trilogy. The film continuously hits you with tear jerking moments in the last 10 minutes, though it never feel like they’re trying to make you cry. The character’s have a natural progression that leads them into moments where they have to make difficult decisions. These decisions are always met with weight and purpose rather than thrown away. The last 10 minutes of this movie are amazing and I can’t sing the movie’s praises enough. If you haven’t seen the “How to Train Your Dragon” films, you absolutely need to add them to your watchlist. This trilogy stands atop most other animated series, rivaled only by “Toy Story” in building emotion and compassion for every character on screen. One other recommendation I need to make is how you see this movie. You absolutely NEED to see this movie in 3D. Its animation and style begs for it to be seen in this format. This film was a beautiful send off for a great trilogy that you should absolutely check out when it hits theaters on Feb. 22.

Grade: A

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