In the third instalment of How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless return as the well-established partners and BFFs audiences have come to know and love, but with so many more layers.
To kick things off, Hiccup and his gang - Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Eret (Kit Harington), and Hiccup's mum, Valka (Cate Blanchett) - are raiding yet another dragon slaver ship to free the captive dragons. The rescued creatures then join them back at Berk, the "first dragon-Viking utopia".
There is clearly a problem with this arrangement, though, as Berk is overcrowded to the point of malfunctioning. Unfortunately, Hiccup, now chief after his father's death in the second film, rules with more heart than head - a disastrous trait when Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a famed Nightfury killer, comes to call.
Hiccup rises to the occasion to save his people and dragons, but he's just too young and inexperienced, and no match for Grimmel; those Hiccup is sworn to protect quickly become a target.
While he's being tested as a leader, Hiccup is also being tested as a friend. For the first time in this franchise, Toothless finds a female of his kind and promptly falls in love. (Turns out Nightfuries, like penguins, mate for life.) Having been partners for so long, Hiccup finds it difficult to see Toothless develop a part of his life where his best bud has no role to play.
In this film, flashbacks to when Hiccup was a little boy sharing moments with his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), are used sparingly and purposefully to give audiences a look into Hiccup's head and emotions as he navigates this difficult phase as a young adult. And, despite the title, the dragons' hidden world and Toothless' impactful stint in it is on screen for such a short amount of time, it becomes clear "the hidden world" is an allegory for that place inside us all where we find the strength and self-conviction to be the best version of ourselves.
As with the previous movies, the animation and sound design are spot-on, and there are some truly gasp-worthy visual moments. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World also manages to consistently hit you in the feels, like a Gronckle headbutt to the solar plexus. Not only does this film continue to deliver the same high standards of its predecessors, its themes of young adulthood, new responsibilities, and being the type of friend your bestie deserves are relatable, and well suited to the viewers who would have grown up with this franchise.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World hits Hong Kong cinemas on Thursday, January 31.