HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD (PG)
104 minutes/now showing (Jan 31)/3 stars
The story: In this third and final film in the series that began in 2010, the village of Berk is now home to an overwhelming number of dragons, many of them rescued from hunters by Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his band of dragon riders. The most skilled of the dragon hunters, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) is out to capture Toothless, Hiccup's Night Fury dragon. Hiccup realises that the only way to keep everyone safe is to relocate all Berkians and dragons to a legendary place known as the Hidden World.
In a rare show of good sense, the creators of the franchise early on set a cap on how many films they would make and have stuck to their promise. The result is a compact, fully-realised arc about a boy and his winged friend that has run its course without running out of steam. The same cannot be said about other cinematic universes.
The trouble is that the How To Train Your Dragon series has relied on a single gimmick - the creatures in the title - and after the pleasures of the Hiccup-Toothless bonding story in the first film (2010), the rest have become less character-driven and more about expanding the Viking world of Berk and its inhabitants.
The ride so far has been powered by eye-popping visuals of acrobatic flight, the dragon bestiary and the spectacular landscape of the fantasy Viking universe. On a big screen, the lushness of the images will knock viewers back in their chairs.
Underneath it all is a thin but serviceable adventure about Hiccup and his tribe forced to become migrants to protect themselves and the dragons.
It is a pity that the material never strives to be more than light comedy that leans hard on the cute rather than something actually funny, such as cartoon outlandishness.
Older patrons will be annoyed by inconsistencies, such as in the dragon-human relationships. It is never clear why creatures as clever as dragons would allow themselves to become beasts of burden for the Berkians, or why they need human leadership to fight their attackers, given the awesome weapons they naturally possess. Or even why, despite being born wild, they have the personalities of kittens.
Opportunities to shake off the perkiness are wasted. Nature might be red in tooth and claw, but you would never know it looking at these animals. Becoming a refugee is also like going on a picnic.
The series closes by explaining why dragons are not seen today, but even that lesson - that the world of man is too corrupt for creatures as pure as these - is undermined by a tacked-on happy ending.