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'How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World' review: Franchise's cursory farewell

Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, and his Night

Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, and his Night Fury dragon, Toothless, lead the Dragon Riders in DreamWorks Animation's "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World."  Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation

PLOT A Viking village seeks a new home to protect its beloved dragons.

CAST Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham

RATED PG (some scary sequences)

LENGTH 1:44

BOTTOM LINE A cursory farewell to a franchise that deserved better.

Over the past nine years, the animated series “How to Train Your Dragon” has struggled to build a fan base for its story about a young Viking, Hiccup, who bucks tradition by befriending a dangerous dragon nicknamed Toothless. Based on Cressida Cowell’s 12-volume book series, the movies — two so far — have earned more than $1 billion combined. Still and all, you just don’t see a lot of Hiccup Halloween costumes and Toothless plushies out there.

The third installment, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” is also the last, and it feels a bit like gentle euthanasia. Other series have been treated worse: “The Chronicles of Narnia” fizzled out after four films, “Percy Jackson” stalled at two and the woebegone “Divergent” is on ice. “Dragon” fans can at least be grateful for a fond farewell.

“The Hidden World” begins with Hiccup and his friends saving dragons from poachers with such regularity that their little village, Berk, is crawling with the creatures. Hiccup, once a runt but now a chief (Jay Baruchel again lends his boyish voice), decides to relocate all of Berk to a mysterious island, “off the map,” where outsiders will never find them. In hot pursuit, however, is the dragon-hunter Grimmel (a wonderful F. Murray Abraham), a brilliant strategist with a secret weapon.

That weapon is a Light Fury dragon — a female, of course, who will capture Toothless’ heart. Writer-director Dean DeBlois falls into some traps himself here, painting this female as sleek and sexy (flawless skin, feline eyes) but lacking in personality. Unlike Toothless, she doesn't even get a name. In fact, characterization is an overall problem in this movie. Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera), once shy lovers, have become as familiar as an old married couple — an oddly dull development in an animated fantasy — while their Viking friends feel newly irritating. (T.J. Miller, the comedian who originally played the rowdy Tuffnut and recently generated some #MeToo-style headlines, has been replaced by Justin Rupple. It’s no improvement.)

Like its predecessors, “The Hidden World” manages to lodge a few arrows in the heart. Hiccup and Toothless cannot stay a boy and his dragon forever; adulthood beckons, and laws of nature must be obeyed. As a finale, this film feels premature and hasty, but at least we get to say goodbye.

TREAT THE FAMILY WITH THESE HITS

DreamWorks Animation, which produced the “How to Train Your Dragon” films, has been responsible for a number of family-friendly hits. Here are four you might recognize:

SHREK (2001) One of the studio’s biggest successes featured Mike Myers in the title role, a foul-tempered ogre surrounded by cutesy fairy-tale figures. Based on the book by William Steig, the movie launched a $3.5 billion franchise.

MADAGASCAR (2005) Four Central Park Zoo animals escape to their native habitat only to find it a little too wild for their liking. The voice cast, which included Chris Rock and Ben Stiller, helped make this film a $532 million hit.

KUNG-FU PANDA (2008) Jack Black provides the voice of Po, a chubby panda who becomes ancient China’s best hope to stop the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane). A critical and commercial hit, “Kung-Fu Panda” earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations but lost in both cases to Pixar’s “WALL-E.”

PUSS IN BOOTS (2011) With Antonio Banderas in the lead and Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws, it’s no wonder this animated comedy took on a racier-than-usual tone. The title character, by the way, first appeared in 2004’s “Shrek 2.” — RAFER GUZMAN

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