How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World | Dean DeBlois | February 22, 2019
In 2010, How to Train Your Dragon captured our hearts with its charming tale of friendship shared between a boy and a dragon and the effect that their relationship had on everyone around them. Although How to Train Your Dragon 2 fell just shy of matching the highs of its predecessor, it still found new ways to stay true to what came before while also expanding the story and proving that there was plenty left in the tank for the franchise.
It’s been a long five years since then, but director Dean DeBlois and his team have finally returned with the third and (supposed) final installment of the series – How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. And while it’s the weakest installment of the trilogy, it still has enough going for it to confirm that this has quietly been the most reliable animated franchise of this decade.
Taking place one year after the events of the second film, we catch up with slightly more grown-up versions of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless, as well as the rest of the whacky yet loveable community of Berk, which has now turned into a paradise of shared harmony between the Vikings and Dragons. Their idealistic paradise is threated after Hiccup and his merry band of companions – girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut and Tuffnut Thorston (Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple, who replaces T.J. Miller), and his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett) – complete another successful raid to rescue dragons from pesky dragon trappers, soon attracting the attention of dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), who sets his sights on upon capturing and killing Toothless by luring the dragon with a female Light Fury. In doing so, he would attract the rest of Berk’s dragons and destroy everything that they have worked so hard to build. The young Viking is forced to relocate his community to a new land in hope of finding “The Hidden World”, a secret paradise where dragons originated (as told to Hiccup by his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) in a sincere and effective flashback).
With this being the final chapter of the series, DeBlois (who also penned the screenplay) has the task of introducing new elements to push the plot forward, while simultaneously giving the story and its characters the satisfying conclusion that they deserve. This is felt with Toothless quickly falling in love with the Light Fury, forcing Hiccup to confront the reality that this is what is best for his buddy, even if it means possibly losing him forever. This transition is made easier for him through his relationship with Astrid, with the thought of marriage looming, thanks to pressure from nearly the whole village. The themes of letting go and moving forward are ever-present and handled in a confident manner that is both easily digestible for the young target audience but also smart enough to please the more than likely accompanying adults.
To my disappointment, Grimmel is a rather forgettable one-note villain with nearly similar motivations as Drago – seen just one film ago – but he provides enough of a threat to serve the story and push the characters to where they need to be. While the navigation of the story isn’t as tight and high flying and the humor from secondary characters is a bit more hit and miss that it seems more forced than the previous installments, The Hidden World still manages to be totally charming and continues to wonderfully expand the world of Berk. It’s no surprise to see how beautiful and wondrous the animation is, popping with vivid colors and imagination.
The animation team (with cinematographer Roger Deakins serving as a Visual Consultant) bring their A-game once again, allowing the voice cast to inject all the charm and humor into their characters, who all get one last chance to shine and leave an impact with the audience. Jay Baruchel doesn’t get quite enough credit for the voice work he provides as Hiccup, bringing a ton of likability and growing along with the character every step of the way. The film does have some time juggling all of the characters equally, but the voice work provided by the cast is as lively as ever, as is the lush score from returning composer John Powell, with that inedible recurring theme striking all the right chords as usual.
It’s all about the growth of these beloved characters. Getting to see Hiccup and Toothless grow up together before our eyes has been a joy, which makes the thought of them having to go their own separate ways bittersweet. The film doesn’t stray too far from the formula or nail all aspects of its expanded world, but it succeeds in sticking its landing with the handling of some rather adult themes of growing up and letting go of that hits all the right notes and leaves you completely satisfied and properly moved after all your time spent in this world. It’s more than completely earned.