How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)
Fly on your own. Find your way home.
Can you believe that it’s been almost ten years since DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon hit theatres, and audiences everywhere fell in love with the awkward fifteen-year-old Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his playful yet lethal Night Fury companion, Toothless — time flies, huh! Roughly based on a 2003 book (now a series of around fifteen) penned by British author Cressida Cowell, the success of the original picture has given writer-director Dean DeBlois — the architect behind these big screen adaptations — the freedom (and funds) to forge a wondrous cinematic world, populated by endearing, identifiable characters and majestic flame-breathing behemoths.
The previous two films, while filled of breathtaking imagery and thrilling fire-and-flight fight scenes, tell an intimate rights-of-passage story about growing up and the responsibility of leadership, centered on a teenaged boy and his unusual animal pal. The latest chapter, Hidden World, brings the franchise to a satisfying conclusion, this third and (supposedly) final How to Train Your Dragon installment working as a poignant, bittersweet send-off to these beloved characters and the Viking village of Berk, wrapping up a saga that’s been joyous and heartbreaking, often both at the one time, fittingly — so make sure you have a box of tissues on standby.
How to Train Your Dragon 3 whisks us back to the Nordic Isle of Berk about one year after the events of the previous film. And boy has a lot changed. The scrawny, boyish Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III — I can see why his name’s been shortened — who’s now about twenty-one, has taken up the mantle of chieftain, this following the defeat of ruthless military madman Drago, the self-proclaimed ‘Dragon God,’ and the tragic death of his father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). What’s more remarkable, however, is that Hiccup has somehow managed to fulfill his boyhood dream, transforming Berk into a peaceful human-dragon utopia, where both man and their two-winged friends can co-exist in harmony.
Part of the film’s appeal is seeing the hundreds of rescued dragons integrated into the Berkian world, now a colorful and congested dragon refuge, the sleepy Cliffside hamlet so chock-a-block (both high and low) that it’s beginning to run out of room. There’s a scene in a communal feast hall bursting with magical beasts big and small, which, while fun and farcical, shows us just how unruly and unmaintainable this style of living has become — it’s here where blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson), voicing his concerns, states that this ‘crowded and unsanitary’ way of life simply can’t continue. And this tip is just a small part of the bigger problem. You see, this mixed spices Shangri-La has put the little island of Berk on the map, exposing them to a number of external threats.
Menace swiftly comes in the form of a snarly, long-faced, peroxide-haired dragon trapper named Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), who, with his acid-spitting, scorpion-like Deathgripper servants, aims to finish what he started: to hunt all dragons out of existence, making the world ‘safer’ for mankind. Grimmel, being so powerful and proficient, also happens to be the man behind the extinction of the Night Furies, but, thanks to Hiccup, Toothless has managed to slip through his fingers — until now.
To lure Toothless into his trap, Grimmel uses a female Night Fury (dubbed Light Fury by Astrid due to the she-dragon’s shimmering alabaster coat) to separate the alpha from his pack, and after their brief first encounter in the woods, Toothless is instantly drawn to her. Eventually, Hiccup agrees to go out and help his dragon friend search for the mysterious dragoness, only to discover that their colony may be in immediate danger if they don’t move to a safer, more secure place — and pronto. Recalling the sea-faring legend about the ancestral home of all dragons told to him by his father, Hiccup proposes that all of Berk relocate there, and thus sets out to find this elusive ‘hidden world,’ which is said to be stationed at the edge of the earth — because, hey, it’s flat, right?
Simply put, HTTYD 3 is just as enjoyable, exciting and enchanting as its cinematic precursors, though probably lacks the same wow-factor as the 2010 original — with four short movies, a long-running television series, comic books, video games, and two feature-length films, there’s really not a lot of ground left to tread. With that said, DeBlois does an excellent job closing out the series and tying up loose ends — think weddings, babies and weepy farewells — while still bringing enough new concepts, environs, and ideas to the table. The soaring aerial sequences are just as exhilarating, with the action still fierce and fiery, the narrative taking time to further develop the relationship between its central characters, and expanding that with, and of their dragons.
In terms of new additions, our band of dragon-freeing heroes has each been given their own dragon-scale battle armor, which coincides with their respective fire-shooting friends — Astrid, for instance, has a crown of spikes just like her bird-like bud Stormfly, her get-up a combination of gold, blue and red, the same colors as the scales of her firedrake. This, at least, keeps the characters looking fresh, and anyone with a keen eye for detail can see that they’ve all matured, physically — Hiccup has a fully-fledged beard at one point. Filmmaker DeBlois also has a bit of fun with his B cast, particularly fraternal twins Tuffnut (Justin Rupple) and his tomboyish sis Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), the former (who uses his dreadlocks to hide the fact that he can’t grow any facial hair) serving out some lame love advice to Hiccup, while the latter has an amusing little scene with the film’s bad guy, exhibiting her irksome persona and general lack of intellect.
The flick’s biggest charm, however, is the introduction of the all-white Night Fury, along with the titular Hidden World. Sharing the same feline tendencies as Toothless, the Lady Fury, who’s still distrustful of humans, brings about the film’s most confronting notion: that all dragons belong in their natural habitat, together with others of their kind. This ultimately leads Hiccup to the realization that his dragon-human vision, no matter how upsetting, may not be what’s best. A mild courting scene between the Night Fury and his untamed lady-friend is cute and waggish, the romance between the pair frisky and organic. The Hidden World itself is also stunningly realized, thanks to Dreamworks’ revolutionary ray-tracer MoonRay, which has given animators the tools to engineer a lush and luminous dragon oasis, akin to the awe-inspiring fluorescent forests seen on the fifth moon of Pandora — remember James Cameron’s Avatar (2009)?
Dealing with love, loss, and learning to let go, but maintaining that childhood sense of wonder, HTTYD 3 is very much a film about making peace, Hiccup, this time, having to overcome his own doubts and inhibitions, learning to trust in his skills/ abilities as a leader. And really, this rounds up the trilogy rather nicely, given that the previous two movies share a similar thematic thread — the first focused on Hiccup reconciling with his father, while the second was about Hiccup reuniting with his long-lost mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett). And, of course, what Dragons film would be complete without some anti-animal-abuse messages, embodied here through the film’s intimidating antagonist.
With key contributions from the returning cast — including leads Baruchel and America Ferrera, and support by Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington — How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is an uplifting all-ages adventure, this series farewell maintaining the oomph, heart, and humor of its predecessors. Despite its juggling of characters and narrative strands, Hidden World still tells the relatable story of a boy (now a man) and his jet-black cat-like chum, hitting all the emotional highs and lows it sets out to reach while dishing out the big action beats and dragon-y goods audiences have come to expect.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner