The production design is impressive and the animation manages to put clearly visible peach fuzz on the hero’s CGI face.
And director and screenwriter De DeBlois aims for the heartstrings with a finale that ties up the whole “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy.
But everything that isn’t production design or sentiment in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is more stultifying, of dubious entertainment value for anybody over the age of 7, or uninterested in the film’s licensed plush toys — whichever age restriction applies.
This tale of Vikings who have reached a rapprochement with the bane of their raping and pillaging existence, dragons, is less Scottish and thus utterly mirth free — witless, with virtually no laughs.
With nothing particularly funny for their characters to say, the likes of Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill are wasted on characters who need childish sight gags (and rather poor ones at that) to seem amusing.
Wasting the great F. Murray Abraham‘s villainous turn, as the infamous dragon hunter of the dark ages Grimmel, is almost as criminal as writing a check to his fellow Oscar winner, Cate Blanchett, to voice the thankless role of mother of the now-colorless hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, sounding bored and over it), who who probably should get around to proposing to the warrior princess (America Ferrera, meh) he’s sweet on.
Any “magic” in the notion of a dragon whisperer and Dark Ages inventor who talks a Night Fury, “The Alpha” among all the dragons that torment their world, into living peacefully with no-longer-as-Scottish Vikings on The Isle of Berk, is long gone.
“The Hidden World” is all about dragon rescue raids, epic CGI combat between righteous Vikings and dragon-nappers who have their own reasons for wanting large collections of the fire-breathing fliers, about “running away from a fight” and about puppy love — dragon style.
It’s not just the Scottishness that takes a backseat this time. Hiccup’s symbiotic relationship with his Night Fury pal, Toothless, is no longer about two disabled creatures making each one unstoppably stronger whole.
Grimmel (Abraham) is brought in to take trap Toothless by the dragon snatchers, and uses a female white Night Fury that we’ll just call a “Light Fury” — because they do — as bait.
Hiccup has to wholly take charge as chief by the authority of birth. His dad was Gerard Butler, remember. Dad’s old pal Gobber (Ferguson) may call Hiccup “the generation that’s supposed to lead us into the future,” but the boy needs to man up and marry Astrid (Ferrera), “Hang up those (dragon) saddles” and settle the succession, already. You crazy kids.
The assaults of Grimmel — involving knock-out bolts from a crossbow — lead Hiccup to a command decision, seeking “some way to make (the dragon-hating) Them leave us alone.” Let’s run away.
And there was this magical place where “all dragons come from, a hidden world” blah blah blah — borrowed “The Land Before Time” movies and “Ice Age.”
The dialogue has no snap, crackle or you-know-what, the dragons are better defined but aren’t really the focus here. Director Dean DeBlois, who co-directed “Lilo & Stitch,” turned the Stitch-headed Toothless into a cocker spaniel in these movies, never more than in this one — puppy mating sniffs, playing fetch, panting, drooling bouncing and prancing in behavior that’s adorable in any dog park in America.
That’s cute enough, but aside from that, “Hidden World” leans heavily on the blandly-voice-acted leads, and Baruchel and Ferrera don’t have enough to play or do — in animated form — to carry the picture between “Mommy, can I have THAT dragon doll?” moments.
It’s positively sleep-inducing. All these enthusiastic reviews are, one suspects, based on the warm fuzzies the picture delivers in the finale. Yawn.
There’s no sense unloading on something plainly for tiny tots, but if they’re insisting on making three of these when one sufficed (they used up all their ideas there), Universal/Dreamworks deserves the ridicule. After all, there were 13 “The Land Before Time” movies, and there’s a dire need to make them stop before we spiral down that drain with them.
MPAA Rating: PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor
Voice cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig, F. Murray Abraham and Gerard Butler.
Credits: Written and directed by Dean DeBlois, based on the Cressida Cowell books . A Universal/Dreamworks Animation release.
Running time: 1:44