A satisfying conclusion to a wonderful trilogy!
If I were to look back at the 2010s to find a film that I truly adore, How to Train Your Dragon immediately comes to mind. Loosely based on the book series by Cressida Cowell, the film is about a young boy named Hiccup who lives in the far off land of Berk, where Vikings and Dragons have been at war for centuries. Hiccup comes across a notoriously rare dragon known as a Night Fury, who acts less of a killer and more of a dog-cat hybrid, and eventually names him Toothless. They develop a strong friendship that is put to the test of what is expected of Hiccup as a viking, but through thick and thin, they show that dragons and humans can co-exist in peace.
The animated film took audiences by storm, becoming one of the most successful animated films of the new millennium. The film struck lightning in every way, as it had enjoyably memorable characters, incredible visuals (that look breathtaking in 3D), an epic score by John Powell, and some of the best pacing I have ever seen in a film, period. Anytime I catch it on TV, I drop everything to watch it.
The film was so successful that it spawned a sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2, in 2014. While it wasn’t the hit that the first film was, it was still an enjoyable watch, and managed to expand the world that the filmmakers set up in the first film. Along with the sequel were a couple of shorts and two long-running television series. Now, the “Dragon” franchise officially comes to an end with the third and final film, The Hidden World.
Taking place one year after the events of the previous film, the citizens of Berk continue to live in peace with the dragons, whose population in Berk has grown to the point of overcrowding. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), having cemented his status as leader following his deceased father, wants this population explosion to continue, not realizing that this has made Berk a large target for Dragon hunters, particularly Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a dragon hunter (with a hairstyle similar to Billy Idol) who specializes in killing Night Furys. He sees Toothless as his ultimate prize, and will destroy anything standing in his way in order to capture and kill him. This ignites Hiccup’s interest The Hidden World, a land his father used to talk about where dragons lived in peace. Thus, Hiccup has everyone pack up everything they can carry, and go in search for the Hidden World to claim their new home.
But that is not all that is happening. As Hiccup continues his ongoing romance with Astrid (America Ferrera), Toothless happens across a rare white-colored female dragon, known as a “Light-Fury.” He is instantly smitten and the two hit it off, as Toothless has not come across another dragon of his kind for so long. This newfound love threatens to distance Toothless from Hiccup, who is not ready to say goodbye to his long-time friend. To be fair, I don’t think any of us fans are ready to say goodbye yet either.
Having been a devoted fan of this franchise since the beginning, I was hoping for a hard-hitting and emotional conclusion to this charming story. In the end, I will say that it felt a little short of that, mainly because the story feels a bit rushed. Part of me feels that this shouldn’t have been the final chapter of the series, and one more film was needed. In addition, it feels like there are too many conflicts in this film, and not enough time to give each its proper focus. Part of the charm of the first film was how simple the story was and how it was driven by the characters. The sequels, however, each have more complicated plots. A more simple story would have had a more emotional impact.
An aspect of How to Train Your Dragon series that I find unique are those scenes without any dialogue. With just the looks on their faces and their body language, the characters, especially the dragons show the viewers what they are feeling, and the messages they communicate to one another. This is mostly evident in the interactions between Hiccup and Toothless. Thankfully, the creators realize this strength and include many dialogue-free scenes, particularly between Toothless and the Light Fury. These scenes are as nicely constructed as they are entertaining to watch. To be fair, there are also a handful of amusing dialogue scenes, particularly a laugh-out-loud scene where one of Hiccup’s friends, Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) deliberately annoying Grimmel into releasing her from imprisonment.
Visually, the movie is just as breathtaking, if not more so, than the original. Objects such as hair, scales, sand, and water are incredibly detailed to the point where they are almost photo-realistic. In a scene where Toothless draws a picture in the sand, you can see almost every grain of sand being moved by the stick. My screening was not in 3D, but the vibrant colors, the depth of the images, and the way the camera moves with the subjects in frame make me want to go and see it in IMAX 3D just for the experience. You will see what I mean when they first encounter the Hidden World, itself!
It is an unfortunate truth that a viewer’s enjoyment of sequels, especially third movies in a trilogy, often depends on knowledge of the previous films. This film is no exception, as the knowledge Hiccup and Toothless’s friendship is what makes the drama and humor of the film work. One character even makes a reference to the franchises’ holiday-themed short, Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury. I have seen that special, and I enjoyed it a lot, but anyone who hasn’t seen that special might not understand the reference. I am not that familiar with the two TV shows, so I may have missed references to those. In regards to the previous films, however, this one follows them well enough, and makes a fantastic use of callbacks, particularly in the sand-drawing and human-dragon contact scenes.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a highly satisfactory end to the acclaimed franchise. The visual effects and action scenes have drastically improved over the trilogy’s 9-year lifespan and the characters remain as lovable as ever, although the semi-rushed pacing slightly dampens the emotional impact of the ending. If you plan on seeing this film, and by my account, you should, see the first two films beforehand, and then go see this one in 3D. Action-packed and emotional, with just a right amount of humor mixed in, The Hidden World will leave audiences with a smile on their face and their eyes full of tears.