Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Very few film franchises of this decade, whether they be live action or animated, can compare to How to Train Your Dragon when it comes to sheer quality. The first two films in the series not only rank as some of the best films to come from DreamWorks Animation, but they single handedly gave the studio the credibility they desperately needed at that point in their existence. After a string of hit-or-miss, but mostly miss (Shrek the Third, Monsters vs. Aliens, Bee Movie) releases in the mid-2000s, How to Train Your Dragon was a breath of fresh air to kick off the decade.
The film was not only one of the most visually stunning CGI-animated films to date, but it brought a great balance of family-friendly fun and darker, more emotionally grounded drama. The fact that the protagonist, Hiccup, (Jay Baruchel) loses his leg at the end of the film, something that just can’t be fixed, shows that, proves that How to Train Your Dragon was willing to do things very few mainstream animated films would.
When the sequel took all the best aspects of the original and only improved and elevated them, something a great sequel is supposed to do, it solidified the series as something truly special. So How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World had quite the feat to accomplish: following up the best film Dreamworks has made in a long time while also wrapping up the most consistently stunning series the studio has ever had.
An absolute joy to the eyes
From an aesthetic standpoint, The Hidden World is just as lovely as its predecessors. There is no decline in quality in any aspect of the visuals; the designs of the dragons are still creative, fun, and colorful, the environments are still breathtakingly lush and vivid, and the camera movement still makes the sensation of flying tangible.
Even a lot of the new design elements, such as the main casts’ dragon suits and the striking design of the Light Fury, are welcome additions. Scenes like Toothless and White Fury’s flight to the eponymous Hidden World and Hiccup’s (and the audiences’) first exposure to the Hidden World. The latter is already a strong contender for the best scene of the year based on visual wonder alone.
The gorgeous visuals have always been the series’ strong point, which continues with The Hidden World, but the story that has been told and the characters that have been developed across the films have always been a huge part of the films’draw. With this final installment, the writing is a mixed bag.
For the most part, the character writing is as strong as ever. The relationship between Hiccup and Toothless continues to be an absolute joy to watch develop. Almost every scene that focuses on the two, whether it showcases their loving chemistry or how Toothless’s growing need for independence puts their relationship to the test, is magnetic. Similar quality moments come from the dynamics between Hiccup and Astrid, Toothless and Light Fury, and the presence of Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), who are the best comic relief in the film by far. Even this film’s villain, Grimmel, is solid, though a lot of that has to do with the great voice acting of F. Murray Abraham.
As two films have come and gone, more and more characters have joined the main cast, so balancing their screen time was bound to a problem. And it is. Valka (Cate Blanchett), the most interesting character to be introduced in the second film, gets cast to the sidelines for the majority of the film. The main cast would be much stronger overall if she were given a bit of the time wasted on Snotlout (Jonah Hill), whose comedic story arc was rarely effective or funny.
A weak ending concludes the trilogy with a disappointingly flat note
Small grievances such as secondary characters not getting more screen time aren’t the real issue with the story. That goes to the second half, and specifically the end.
Each of the past two Dragon films had one gut-wrenching emotional moment. For the first, it was the ending of the climactic battle. For the second, it was the death of Hiccup’s father, the handling of which was a big part of what makes the second film the best of the trilogy.
But with this finale, the one film of the three that should pack a huge punch, there is a sore lack of that impact. But it’s not like there aren’t moments that were meant to take that role, because there are. The most obvious one takes place right after the final battle between Hiccup and company and Grimmel; it’s at this point that Hiccup realizes that all of the dragons would be much safer away from humans and in the Hidden World. It’s at this point that Hiccup accepts Toothless’ (and his own) need for independence and lets him go, and the rest of the villagers of Berk follow suit and allow the dragons to leave.
While this moment has the potential to be a powerful, it is not paced or executed well. First of all, the preceding scenes where Hiccup gives independence to Toothless do not have any sense of permanence. The first instance plays out like it’ll be a temporary leave, and the second one, where Toothless is captured, lasts for only a couple of minutes. A scene that is supposed to indicate Hiccup’s need to stop relying on Toothless and become a strong individual reunites the two much too quickly for the separation to have any impact on the viewer.
Second of all, Jay Baruchel just does not sell the emotional impact this should have on Hiccup. Baruchel has been able to sell moments like this before. In these moments Hiccup just sounds inconvenienced by losing his greatest friend and battle partner. It doesn’t matter how many tears are animated rolling down Hiccup’s cheek; if it doesn’t sound like it matters to him, it’s not going to matter for the audience. The fact that such an important moment of the film’s story had minimal emotional impact is very much in line with the majority of the film’s back end.
Featured Image: IMDb
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