How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the third installment in the How To Train Your Dragon series, concluding the animated trilogy in fine fashion. The movies are adapted from the books by Cressida Cowell, although the latter films have deviated a bit from the source material. This newest entry perfectly wraps up the overarching series storyline without audiences having to go back and read the synopses from previous films (which I’m sure they’ve already seen). While still feeling like part of the series, How To Train Your Dragon 3 does a great job of not relying too much on the viewer’s recollection of past events–just the overarching premise.
Throughout the first two movies, young Viking leader, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), convinces his dragon-hating community that dragons and humans can live together peacefully. He succeeds, to the point where each human has his or her own dragon, and the scaly beasts are now a huge part of the local culture. However, as we see in The Hidden World, the rest of the world isn’t quite on board and still hates dragons, wanting them all dead.
None more so than Grimmel the Grisly (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), the most notorious dragon hunter, who catches wind of a Night Fury (the most infamous of the dragon breeds) still alive. That dragon is Toothless, Hiccup’s best friend and the catalyst for everyone’s change of heart in the first film. Toothless is lovable and sweet, like a puppy. But Grimmel will stop at nothing to hunt and kill Toothless–the last known remaining dragon of his kind.
Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), Hiccup’s late father was obsessed with the “Hidden World”–a legendary safe haven where dragons can live peacefully without interference from humans. Though it may be little more than myth, Hiccup is determined to uncover the location of the dragon refuge. With Grimmel breathing down their necks, Hiccup decides that this is the perfect opportunity to set out and find the Hidden World and help secure safety for all dragons.
Visually, The Hidden World is the best in the franchise, though not necessarily story-wise. Aesthetically it’s even more beautiful than what we’ve come to expect from the series, with an increase of wonder and mystical environments that have made the Dragon franchise so much fun to watch. Dean DeBlois once again directs, but it never feels like we’re watching a masterpiece this time around–unlike the first two films, which are virtual equals–perhaps due to a 2nd act that moves a lot slower than we’re accustomed to.
Not as much happens during the middle chunk of the film. Instead, a lot of time is spent on experiencing the aesthetics of this world rather than moving the plot forward. Narratively, there aren’t a lot of places left to explore, except in building relationships and purpose. The switch to a more visual narrative isn’t without its pleasures, however, and can be rewarding for those more observant viewers.
One scene in particular really demonstrates this, where Toothless is getting to know Light Fury, a female dragon. He’s vying for her affection, trying to get her to want to get to know him. I was initially taken back by the absurd duration of this sequence, but eventually realized the magnitude of what was really going on. The moments between the two amorous dragons are executed so perfectly they never come off as indulgent or pretentious. Rather they organically build a relationship between two characters who don’t speak–and do so without a cliched resolution. It’s noticeably longer than it should be, but when you really think about it, this sequence is necessary–even if it narrowly avoids a potentially disastrous outcome.
In a lesser movie, this scene might have been thrown together haphazardly, with only the overall purpose of introducing these two creatures to each other. Here, it’s well thought-out and meticulously choreographed, rather than merely feeling obligatory to move the plot forward. It never feels contrived, which is unusual for mainstream animated movies.
And even though the humor in these films is always broad, the How To Train Your Dragon series has always possessed something intangible that sets it apart from its contemporaries.
There’s definitely a villain in order to propel the story, but the main focus is how Toothless finds love and sees the world as being bigger than he thought. How Hiccup manages to cope with Toothless leaving him – his winged friend no longer the most important thing in his life anymore–will feel painfully and authentically familiar to parents everywhere. It’s sad, but also bittersweet. And a pretty mature concept for a kids’ movie.
The films in this franchise always know how to give us fantastic finishes, but in the case of this particular movie, you can’t help but feel like a thin premise is attempting to drive a narrative, just to get us to a desired conclusion–however effective it may be. But the attempt isn’t shallow. Fortunately, How To Train Your Dragon 3 isn’t just a cheap cash grab. It completes a story. And its lack of meat in the story itself is just a result of a movie that’s trying to make us think as well as entertain us.
Originally published on March 8, 2019 at https://www.popzara.com/movies/movie-reviews/how-to-train-your-dragon-the-hidden-world-2019/