When Hiccup discovers Toothless isn't the only Night Fury, he must seek "The Hidden World", a secret Dragon Utopia before a hired tyrant named Grimmel finds it first. (from IMDb)
It's hard to believe it's already been almost a decade since DreamWorks Animation delivered the first the How To Train Your Dragon film. The movie was an adaptation of a beloved childrens' book and it proved to be tailor-made for the big screen treatment. Immediately upon the success of the first film, director Dean DeBlois was tasked with writing the script for the next installment in the story of Hiccup and his best friend, a Night Fury dragon he named Toothless. By the end of 2010, DeBlois had completed his script for How To Train Your Dragon 2, setting it up to be the second part in a trilogy of movies. Even nine years ago, the plan was in place to make three films (as evidenced on a documentary that was released with the second film). After How To Train Your Dragon 2 debuted in 2014, furthering the adventures of the people of Berk, a couple TV series based on the films were created, giving the characters dragon-seeking adventures that bridged the gap between the first two films. Five years had passed between the events of those two films, and the 15-year-old scrawny kid we had been introduced to in 2010 was now entering his twenties. In 2019, the final chapter, titled How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is here, opening the story one year after the events that took place in How To Train Your Dragon 2, and it's time to bid farewell to these lovable characters.
Revisiting the films before seeing The Hidden World, I was reminded just how wonderful these movies really are. It's unusual to watch animated characters grow up before your very eyes, but that's just what DreamWorks has done with Hiccup and his friends, and it's really neat to see. It also ups the emotional aspect of the stories, because anyone who became a fan with the first film has been growing along with them. The series has also seen its share of gain and loss. The first film established that Hiccup had lost his mother while he was still a baby, and the second film showed us that Valka was not only still alive, but she was very much a dragon whisperer like her son. Unfortunately, just as soon as Hiccup and his father, Stoic, had gotten Valka back in their little family, Stoic dies while protecting Hiccup. DeBlois knows how to emotionally charge these films, and each one truly pulls at the heartstrings. This final installment is certainly no different, and if you've ever experienced moist eyes from one of these films, you can rest assured you'll be moved while watching The Hidden World.
While it's only a year that's passed this time around, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World continues to show that much has changed in the year following Stoic's death. Hiccup is chief of Berk, and still learning what that means, while Toothless is officially the alpha of all dragons. Both have become the leaders of their respective species, so to speak. But when a new threat, Grimmel, who had worked alongside the previous film's villain, Drago, appears, the very way of life for all of those on Berk is threatened. Grimmel's main sinister motivation, however, is to hunt and kill Toothless, as he's made it his goal to rid the world of Night Furies. In his possession, mysteriously, is the lone female Night Fury, a white one--which Astrid dubs a Light Fury. It's Grimmel's intentions from the start to use the Light Fury to lure and entrap Toothless--and her charms instantly win him over.
While these films have always had comedic aspects--usually provided by Hiccup's friends and sometimes Hiccup himself, things are far more serious this time around. Sure there's plenty of comedy stemming from his friends (particularly Ruffnut in one of the film's most brilliant moments), but The Hidden World is overall darker than the previous entries. Everything changes here, but the bond of friendship between all of the characters--while tested at times--remains its greatest strength and brightest light. Grimmel, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, is a fantastic villain, and a scary foil for Hiccup. A great deal is on the line for our hero--a child who we've watched become a man over the years--and we feel the struggle he goes through here. The emotional weight of the story is not only its strength, but also kind of its weakness. The first film is entirely triumphant and enjoyable, while the second film is bittersweet due to the loss of Stoic. The Hidden World is probably even more so a reality check. It's a reminder that things in life have to change, paths separate, and while things can still be wonderful in our life as we grow, there's pain that inevitably comes with it. The Hidden World pierces the heart, and that makes it a weightier experience overall.
I can't talk about the film too much without divulging more plot specifics (if you want tons of spoilers, you'll have to check out my conversation with Chase on episode 58 of the JFH Podcast about this movie), but there's a lot for fans to process after seeing The Hidden World. I'd definitely like to see it again before deciding how it ranks with the previous entries. It surely works as a satisfying conclusion to the series, though. [Moderate plot spoiler warning next] One minor complaint--and I hesitate to even describe it as such--is that I was surprised to learn that the meeting of Toothless with the Light Fury was a manipulation by the villain. I think the mystery of her intentions (i.e. the puppeteering that may potentially be there) robs their interactions and romance of the fullest extent of the joy that I think is meant to be there. The whole time, you kind of worry about what's going to happen, and you worry about the affect it'll have on Toothless and Hiccup. (That's something I wonder how will play differently with a second viewing.)
Visually, The Hidden World is a beautiful film. While revisiting the previous two films, I was surprised at how dated the first film looked when compared to today's quality of animation. Even How To Train Your Dragon 2, just four years after the first one, was closer to today's standards. How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World looks even more incredible--from the fine sand that Toothless goes frolicking in, to the fire effects or luminous land of the Hidden World; it's lovely. The characters are even more expressive here.
The content is in line with the rest of the series. There's a lot of action violence this time--maybe even more than before--as the vikings of Berk battle the vikings who want to trap the dragons, but it's seldom fatal. The opening scene shows Hiccup and his friends as sort of a rescue team to free the dragons caged on a ship, while the climax of the film is a battle on a grander scale. There isn't anything gory or graphic shown, but Grimmel's menacing presence will surely scare some younger viewers. He also has a couple fearsome dragons of his own that spit hot, fiery green napalm that threatens our heroes a few times. There's no language in the film aside from the usual viking take on religious exclamations, so there's stuff like "For Thor's sake" or "Oh my gods" that fits the context of this world, but could be offensive to some viewers.
Goodbyes aren't easy, and the geniuses behind the How To Train Your Dragon franchise make the fans feel this one. If you've loved anything about this series, you'll enjoy The Hidden World. It's exciting, fun, and also pulls at the heartstrings. While three films feels fitting for this series, as not to wear out its welcome, it's still tough to bid farewell to characters we've come to love over the past 9 years. Definitely go see The Hidden World -- just don't forget to bring tissues.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/24/19)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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