How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ★★★★

It's been nearly a decade since audiences were first introduced to Jay Baruchel's Hiccup and his mythical friend, Toothless, but despite the long stretches of time in between each installment (four years in between the first and five years in between the second and third) writer/director Dean DeBlois only seems to take this time to hone each new story and the character arcs of each major player all the more. While the story specifics of the previous two installments tend to escape me what remains is the memory of the impact each film left on me; the first film rousing a sense of respect for being more than it had to be and the second a sense of appreciation for the ambition of the scope and scale in both its storytelling and visual prowess.

With this third and final installment, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, DeBlois beautifully rounds out the story and friendship of Hiccup and Toothless with another familiar set of story beats, but a wholly inventive way of connecting them that doesn't rely on the previous films for investment or emotional resonance, but this of course doesn't hurt it either. As with the whole of the trilogy, there is real risk, real cost, and a real edge associated with these films that one doesn't often see integrated into children's entertainment. This time around-in regards to Hiccup-DeBlois and co. touch on letting go and moving on while noting each of these things is a necessary part of maturing into a compassionate and level-headed leader whereas Toothless makes these same strides through being afforded the opportunity of a new life he doesn't have to feel guilty about wanting.

All well and good, of course, but The Hidden World really soars when it puts on display its command of the craft of movie-making and allows the moving pictures to do all the talking. The wordless sequence in which Toothless courts a new "light fury" is both breathtaking and entertaining, for adults and children alike, but more than anything it is simply lovely to experience as it is one of those moments where getting caught up in what is happening on screen isn't a choice; it simply sucks you in and you wait with bated breath hoping that Toothless somehow pulls this off. It didn't take long to realize how quiet the child-filled theater became when the power of this sequence became apparent. What more could one ask for out of a trilogy finale than for it to be both about growth and acceptance while at the same time reminding you what it's like to be a kid again?