File under: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Or rather, if what’s broke doesn’t bother the audience, for heaven’s sake, leave it alone. In installments one and two of the saga of scrawny/savvy Viking Hiccup and his beloved dragon Toothless, there was a requisite Enemy to serve as the occasion for a big ol’ final battle wherein the titular dragons got to do their dragon stuff. But the real story was always cross-cultural relations: breaking down the Us/Them divide between species through understanding, communication, and cooperation. And in the process, restoring the breaches among our own kind. And learning a little something about love and life. (Who knew Vikings were such a sweet and sentimental bunch?) In the spirit of consistency, the same holds true here as well, as the Boy and His Fire-Breathing Dog discover that childhood inter-species friendships can get complicated when girls arrive on the scene. The problem — for those who aren’t entirely caught up in the sweet, goofy antics of lovelorn people and dragons alike — is that this time, writer-director Dean DeBlois comes within a spiky hair’s breadth of creating a really compelling villain, Grimmel the Dragon Hunter. (And in F. Murray Abraham, he has a thoroughly compelling voice for him.) Grimmel is an old-fashioned monster, happy to use the power of enslaved dragons in his efforts to track and kill the free variety. (He’s terrific when he’s doing it for the sheer thrill of the hunt; less so when he’s nattering on about how human-dragon equality is dangerous to civilization as we know it.) DeBlois struggles mightily to connect the resolution of one storyline to the resolution of the other, and it proves to be an overwhelming task. Still, it’s a painless watch, with plenty of visual oohs and emotional aahs, and will surely leave fans happy.
Length: 1 hour, 44 minutes