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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

The third time's a bittersweet, crowd-pleasing charm for the computer-animated adventures based on the books penned by Cressida Cowell. Directed at a brisk pace by Dean DeBlois, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World soars in the slipstream of earlier films, which tenderly sketched the friendship between a Viking boy called Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and a Night Fury dragon christened Toothless. That unshakeable bond between man and beast is tested to (heart)breaking point in DeBlois's script, which recycles themes of selflessness and devotion to their natural conclusion without sacrificing the tenderness, raw emotion or uproarious humour which have become the series' trademarks. Admittedly, there are scorch marks of deja vu on a plot that pits Hiccup and his Viking brethren against a sadistic villain who has hunted Night Furies - the alphas of the dragon world - to the brink of extinction. At this point in the storytelling, DeBlois could afford to take a few chances rather than rest on the franchise's beautifully animated laurels. The writer-director doesn't tamper with the winning formula of the two previous chapters and underscores existing alliances with rousing support from returning composer John Powell, who sounds the battle cry for sobs from traumatised parents as cherished characters make glorious self-sacrifices for the people and creatures they adore. One year after the Viking funeral of his father Stoick The Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler), Hiccup (Baruchel) leads his tribe in daring night-time raids to rescue caged dragons. He is accompanied by sweetheart Astrid (America Ferrera), mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) and buddies Snoutlout (Jonah Hill), Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). The humans lead these liberated beasts back to their cliffside village of Berk. Trusted adviser and blacksmith Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson) grows increasingly concerned about the overcrowded conditions in Berk and Hiccup's bravado. "One day, you're going to pick a fight you can't win," Gobber counsels the young tribal chief, who feels invincible with Toothless by his side. Soon after, Hiccup locks horns with notorious dragon hunter Grimmel (F Murray Abraham), who issues a chilling ultimatum: surrender every fire-breathing beast in Berk or perish. "Have my dragons ready when I return," snarls Grimmel, "or I will destroy everything you love." How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World oscillates between parallel romances - Hiccup and Astrid, Toothless and a Light Fury - to emphasise the importance of partnerships in building a brighter future. Energetic vocal performances complement the colourful and detailed visuals, which crank up a gear when the film descends into the titular secret realm, where beasts large and small flourish in safety from the prying, predatory eyes of humanity. If this is the final time Hiccup and co take flight, it is a sweetly satisfying and soaring swansong.