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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Review

February 22, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Review  

Directed By: Dean DeBlois
Written By: Dean DeBlois; Based on the book series How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
Runtime: 104 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor

Jay Baruchel – Hiccup
America Ferrera – Astrid
F. Murray Abraham – Grimmel
Cate Blanchett – Valka
Jonah Hill – Snotlout
Christopher Mintz-Plasse – Fish Legs
Kristen Wiig – Tuffnut
Justin Rupple – Ruffnut
Robin Atkin Downes – Ack
Kit Harington – Eret
Gerard Butler – Stoick
Craig Ferguson – Gobber
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson – Ragnar the Rock
James Sie – Chaghatai Khan

The animated film series, How to Train Your Dragon, finally reaches its emotional conclusion with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. The third film in the franchise, The Hidden World, spawned a long-running TV series that took place between the events of the films. It is the bittersweet sendoff that will make longtime fans, who have followed the franchise since the release of the first film in 2010, both relish and weep.

Taking place about one year after the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2, Hiccup (Baruchel) has assumed the role as the new chief of Berk, and his dragon rider companions are still at peace with their scaly friends. Recently, they have stepped up their efforts in weeding out dragon poachers and hunters, offering refuge to the liberated creatures. Unfortunately, Berk is starting to get crowded with the added dragon population. In addition, the increased activity of dragons in their village and from Hiccup makes their home a sizable and exposed target. They have gained the attention of a relentless and nefarious dragon hunter, Grimmel (Murray Abraham), who has his sights on Hiccup’s best friend and dragon partner, Toothless.

Grimmel has eliminated every other Night Fury in existence, and now he wants to finish off the last of Toothless’ line. He plans to use another dragon as bait to lure Toothless and Hiccup into a trap; a female white-skinned Fury dragon, or Light Fury, as she’s dubbed by Astrid. Of course, Toothless sees the Light Fury as his natural mate and is instantly smitten.

Unfortunately for Hiccup and the other dragon riders, Grimmel is a cunning and formidable match, unlike any enemy they have ever faced. He likes to use dragons, but he has drugged and tortured them into ruthless obedience. Unlike Hiccup and his friends, Grimmel does not care for dragons and does not treat them with the respect and reverence. Hiccup believes the only way to safety is to relocate all of Berk to the dragon homeland, a mythical realm his father once sought to discover, called the Hidden World. However, the most realistic answer to all of Berk’s problems is the one Hiccup would favor the least.

The Hidden World is a tear-jerking, heartwarming conclusion to what has become quite a powerhouse franchise in terms of storytelling and narrative. The first How to Train Your Dragon was solid, albeit rather cliched and predictable. It was the spinoff Dragons TV series and How to Train Your Dragon 2 that really opened this franchise up and unlocked its hidden potential, especially with the stories that allowed the characters to grow and age. Hiccup and his friends have come a long way and evolved quite a bit since the events of the first film. They’re still recognizable, but they have reached adulthood. It’s something that rarely happens in animated franchises.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 director Dean Delois returns for The Hidden World. His style really helped this series take off. He captures the dragons and these characters with a romantic majesty and a sense of whimsy. Delois’ direction for action and the way the characters move and interact makes the film come off more like a live-action film than an animated one. Some sequences in the film provide so much depth and immersion that makes it very easy to get lost in this world. There are moments in The Hidden World that provide such amazing sense of immersion that the fact that this is animated is completely forgotten. That is where The Hidden World finds its true inner strength.

The cinematography is amazing. DeBlois and his production team make full use of a computer animated space rendered in three dimensions and provide a dynamic, not chaotic, sense of cinematography that’s rarely used for animated films. It’s the same with the lighting techniques. Scenes are lit and framed in a way to evoke more darkness and absence of light. The animation here is quite possibly the best in a DreamWorks Animation feature to date. The totality and level of detail easily rival some of Pixar’s best work.

The problems with the film are minor, but noticeable. As a storytelling device, the Hidden World, or the dragon homeland, is not nearly enough fleshed out. It’s more or less a convenient plot device and goal for the heroes to seek out. However, the Hidden World is really not so hidden. On top of that, the film avoids the more emotional outcome. For people who are familiar with Fullmetal Alchemist, the filmmakers opted for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood over Fullmetal Alchemist. One particular route the film takes is rather illogical.

It’s similar to how the first film ultimately contradicts itself with the climax. Killing Red Death seemed like the wrong thing to do. If Dragons are truly beautiful and majestic creatures, if humans are wrong about dragons and need to understand them rather than hunt and kill them, then why did the killing Red Death need to happen? Also, the alpha male system the films established to explain the dragons, exhibited subservience or brainwashed into a type of hive-mind system, was always more than a little half-baked. Unfortunately, that’s once again in play here.

Ultimately, The Hidden World pulls back a little too much with its ultimate conclusion — possibly to serve the younger viewers. It’s possible that the studio wanted to limit the tears and sadness. However, it’s feasible that this is genuinely the ending that DeBlois wanted. The film didn’t need a cynical ending, but the more natural conclusion really would not have been cynical at all. The problem is that the ending is not quite as emotional and logically natural as it could have been.

Without giving anything away, the loss of Stoick (Butler) in the second movie was a very powerful, but necessary, part of the story. Hiccup’s journey and growth into a man is a huge part of the story. It also established Drago as a very real threat to the heroes and a competent villain. Ultimately, Grimmel has a bit too much bark and not enough bite. Not that he needed to kill off any of the heroes, but at one point, there is a hero in his captivity. Grimmel’s reaction to this is rather dull and disappointing.

Otherwise, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden world is a fine third entry for the franchise. It doesn’t quite surpass the second film, but it’s worthy followup that will entertain fans of the series and leave them fulfilled. The story arc of Hiccup and his best buddy, Toothless, has been remarkably moving to watch unfold for nearly the last 10 years, so it’s nice to see the franchise end on a high note.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is overall, a fine sequel and a strong conclusion to the franchise. It has its missteps with a few elements in execution, but the film is a nice emotional conclusion to the journey of Hiccup, Toothless and his friends. Dean DeBlois exhibits some amazing directorial confidence with some impressive lighting and cinematography that's rarely utilized in animated features. This is quite possibly the best-looking DreamWorks Animation feature to date.