Though I know it will inspire some pushback, I’m prepared to dub the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies the GOAT animated franchise. (That’s Greatest OF All Time, in case you didn’t know.) And yes, I’m including the “Toy Story” flicks.
Especially when considered in companionship with its short films and television/streaming show, “Dragon” has been a decade-long experience that’s both exhilarating and emotionally sustaining. It’s wrapped around the friendship between a Viking boy and a dragon, both of them striving despite physical (and to a lesser extent, psychological) disabilities.
In this definitively final go-round, scrawny nerd Hiccup (voice by Jay Baruchel) has become the unquestioned chief of his village, comprised of hardy folk who used to be enemies of the dragons but became their friends and allies. As time has gone on, their little island has become a crowded refuge for the reptilian creatures.
This draws the attention of dragon hunters, chiefly Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), a sly fellow who uses chemistry and trickery to control and, eventually, exterminate the dragons. Hiccup and his people stumble across a plan to protect them -- but it involves permanently saying goodbye to them.
Familiar faces return, including Hiccup’s wingwoman/reluctant romantic interest, Astrid (America Ferrera); his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), herself a dragon master; Gobber (Craig Ferguson), the village blacksmith and wisest person; and Hiccup’s various sidekicks, ranging from obnoxious to nerdy.
In the most notable development, ebony night fury Toothless, though to be the last dragon of his kind, encounters a white female, setting up obvious parallels with his human counterpart.
Writer/director Dean Deblois, who’s helmed all three feature films, brings a comfortable mix of action and awe, building characters without sacrificing entertainment value. What a great ride it’s been.
Bonus features are excellent. They include a feature-length commentary track, an alternate opening, deleted scenes and a couple of animated shorts. There is also a full dozen documentary shorts, ranging on the animation process to looks at the mythology behind dragons.