Film review: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” (2019)

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” (2019) 


Running Time: 104 minutes

Written & directed by: Dean DeBlois

Featuring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Justin Rupple, Kristen Wiig and F. Murray Abraham

Astrid“Another Nightfury.”

Hiccup:“She’s more like a Bright…”

Astrid:“A Lightfury.”

With very little fanfare the final part of the “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy has been released into theatres this month with “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” (2019), bringing to an end one of the more memorable as well as emotional animated series ever. When the first installment was released in 2010 it was a revelation as well as original, it did well at the box office as well as with critics, not only that it was a story that had universal appeal, based on real emotion as well as representing people with disabilities in ways that were positive and did not pander or ridicule. It also utilized existing tropes that play out almost all the time in animated films, that is a fish out a water narrative, which was reflected with both main characters, who are unique in their own worlds while at the same time co-existing in each others. The other important element in “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010) was that it linked both main characters explicitly as both were missing limbs, which also linked the two species in the movie, humans and dragons. While the first film was quite light hearted and fun, the follow up, when it arrived in 2014 was a serious upgrade in both animation as well as story, with some serious ramifications for Hiccup, the hero of the story. Hiccup and Toothless had to deal with dragon hunters, the reuniting of a parent long thought dead as well as loss on a very personal scale. These themes like the first movie reflected what it is like being a child, especially those that are dealing with adult issues, which can affect them from time to time in real ways. If anything both of these movies keep it real in terms of dealing with real emotion as well as how important it is to rely on friends, even if you do not realize you need them at the time. 

One of the aspects that is present in all three movies that I love is that we are witnessing not only a true friendship being made, but we also see these people grow and change, it is a real achievement in not only animated movies but movies in general. There are narrative arcs within each film as well as over the trilogy, that have ramifications on almost every single character, which is great as well. Of course at its most basic level the movie is about two outcasts who have physical impairments that rely on each other for strength and support, they not only need each other but they are loyal as well as confidants who understand each other on an instinctual level, this has rarely been seen in cinema in such a pure thoughtful way. 

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is the closing of the trilogy, how well it does this is debatable as this was always going to mean both Hiccup and Toothless were going to have to grow up, realise that they now needed different things in their life and that if they stayed together they were going to have to deny who they really were, as well as what they wanted. However because there was such a step up from the first to the second installment this third movie, no matter the actual storyline was possibly going to be a disappointment, which for me it was as it does not quite stick its landing. One of the beautiful things about these movies was the ‘realness’ that they had in the treatment of many elements of life, this one goes against the grain with a slightly manipulative and sentimental conclusion which I though it could have done without completely. 

There has been a large number of constants running through all three movies such as the voice cast, the characters, the setting and the creative team led by writer/director Dean DeBlois who has done a wonderful job in adapting the series of novels by Cressida Cowell. In adapting the books into movies there have been many changes made, which for me is great writing, making it more character based with slight stories that are nothing new narratively. It is the relationships that are most important which is where DeBlois has written himself into a corner of sorts as he has to introduce too many characters to an already character heavy story. In fact DeBlois actually adds more new characters to this stuffed movie meaning that it feels a little contrived and the relationship we want most is almost sidelined which I found a little frustrating. I did however, enjoy the addition as well as the parallel narrative of both Hiccup and Toothless finding love as well as a kingdom of dragons, that is obviously where we will end up. The animation itself looks great, the dragons in all their myriad forms look amazing with a level of detail that supersedes the previous two chapters, which is a great uptick especially because of the protracted time between the previous instalment and this new one.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is set one year following Stoick’s death and Drago’s defeat. Hiccup, now the chief of Berk, has fulfilled his dream of creating a peaceful dragon utopia, where both humans and dragons live together. Though Hiccup is content with the current events, his constant missions in saving dragons from various dragon hunters has caused Berk to become overpopulated with dragons. On one particular mission to save dragons from a hunting ship, Hiccup and his crew miss one dragon, a white Night Fury who can turn invisible. Its captors deliver the dragon to an evil dragon hunter called Grimmel the Grisly, who promises to use it to hunt down Toothless and deliver him back to the hunters. 

Along with the huge cast that are returning there has been the addition of Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham as Grimmel the villain of the piece who even as a voice actor has menace as well as a presence that seems to blow every one else off the screen, he is wonderful to have especially as a foil for the rest of the cast. All of the actors have their own time to shine in their respective roles which is fine for them, and I assume it was the reason to return but it hampers the plot as well as the narrative which is where I was a little let down overall. It would have been a braver and better decision to pare the cast back so that it was a fully realised story that was coherent, more fun and had a real emotional, impactful ending. 

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is still a wonderful movie, it begins and ends for me with the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless that is still a wonder to watch. The real trick and gift was not to anthropomorphise Toothless as being a human, instead making him more cat-like, which was, and still remains the best decision made in this franchise. The only real issue I have is that it does not reach the high points of the second chapter with all the revelations and losses that the middle part had, like many trilogies it saves the best for the middle. It also has, for me, an unsatisfactory conclusion that should have had more emotional weight but seems to scared to leave it on what may have been a more sombre and memorable, as well as sticking with the previous two movies, a more realistic ending. Nevertheless I recommend this movie highly and should be seen on the big screen.

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