Heads up: If you've ever owned a dog, a cat, or a dragon, the final 20 minutes or so of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World will reduce you to a wheezing, weeping, snot-soaked wreck, and because this will happen at the very end of the movie, as soon as you stumble out of the theater, everyone is going to know that a children's movie about friendly dragons just reduced you to a wheezing, weeping, snot-soaked wreck, and this is a thing you will have to deal with for the rest of your life.
Another heads up: The rest of the movie isn't very good.
2010's How to Train Your Dragon was that rare, wondrous thing: A non-Pixar, American-made animated film that was funny, insightful, emotional, and had some fucking badass dragon fights. Alas, its bland 2014 sequel was a forgettable downgrade, and now, the series' final installment lands somewhere in the middle, its good intentions kneecapped by an uneven story, a slew of pointless characters, and a bewildering amount of humorless jokes.
The Hidden World's plot—boring dragon slayer Grimmel (voiced, and voiced weirdly, by F. Murray Abraham) hunts Viking chief Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his BFF dragon, Toothless (who remains about 80 percent dragon, 10 percent puppy, 10 percent kitten, and 100 percent adorable)—feels tacked on and limp, with director Dean DeBlois apparently more interested in whether Toothless is gonna hook up with a newfound lady dragon. So I guess another heads up is in order: A surprisingly large portion of this film is just cartoon dragons giving lustful fuck-me eyes to each other? Bring the kids!
Thankfully, the good parts of this series are still here: Every frame is nothing short of gorgeous (thanks, in part, to visual consultant Roger Deakins, the Greatest Cinematographer of All Time); John Powell's score is graceful and rousing; and it feels far more novel than it should to see a children's film that not only has the courtesy to offer a decent, actual ending, but also embraces its characters as they believably, meaningfully age and change. (By this measure alone, the Dragons films make so many other animated franchises—Shrek, Cars, whatever those fucking ones are with the goddamn Minions—look like the lifeless, soulless cash-ins they are.) But here, those excellent aspects are undermined by unfortunate choices: Female characters who, you know, did stuff in previous installments now exist only to give pep talks to insecure men; the film's lamest jokes and characters are turned into obnoxious running gags; and the pacing feels both frantic and drawn-out, never settling into the earnest, engaging groove that the first film seemed to so effortlessly find.
So here we are, ending this whole thing on a down note. It's probably for the best that this is the final installment, but at least we'll always have that first, phenomenal How to Train Your Dragon, a movie that still plays like gangbusters. And to be fair, there are those last 20 minutes of The Hidden World, which are the most affecting in the entire series. Take this movie's conclusion, tack it onto the end of the first How to Train Your Dragon, and you've got an all-timer classic. Let's just forget about everything in between.