How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third and final movie of the How to Train Your Dragon series, serves as a fitting send-off to one of the more consistent film franchises of the 2010s. There’s a ton to like here, from the gorgeous animation to the soaring, award-winning score by John Powell, both of which contribute to a technically gorgeous film that will entrance both longtime fans, as well as new viewers. That isn’t to say that it’s perfect—The Hidden World stumbles in executing some aspects of its storytelling, but most will be satisfied with the trilogy’s conclusion.
The Hidden World tells the continuing story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), his dragon Toothless, and the village of Berk, a group of Vikings—who, in the past, have fought dragons as their mortal enemies, but now both embrace and live alongside them. Their existence, while joyous and happy, isn’t always the safest, as they both need to defend their dragons from groups of nefarious “dragon trappers,” as well as attack these trappers in order to free captured dragons who are under their control. Things start to get serious in this final installment, however, as the village runs into Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a particularly powerful trapper who is determined to steal away Toothless and add him to his “dragon army” because he is a Nightfury, a very rare breed of dragon formerly believed to be extinct.
The strongest part of this film is the audio-visual experience, and it stands completely separate from the story. It really says something that a Dreamworks film like this, which of course already has the highest standards and expectations in terms of visuals, can still make audience members’ jaws drop.
Audiences would be hard-pressed to find a film as gorgeous and vibrant as this: colors pop out of the screen, and the lighting and texture work is second to none. The superior artistic direction is paired with an insane level of detail, especially in regard to the character’s body and facial animations. They all seem incredibly lifelike, but don’t cross into that creepy, “uncanny valley” territory of realism, as they maintain their cartoonish, friendly characteristics. Powell also returns, refining and reimagining his beautiful score, which offers so much to the action on screen. Hiccup doing a deft and dangerous dive on the back of Toothless really isn’t the same without that trademark, booming theme in the background.
High quality voice acting adds to the immersive experience of The Hidden World. Nearly the entirety of the previous film’s cast is back aboard, and they do a good job of delivering their lines both consistently and with the appropriate emotion.
While many aspects of the movie are unequivocally excellent, some parts of the story are a bit more questionable. Basically, there are two main themes that drive the action of the film. Relationships trouble both main characters, as Toothless yearns to find another Nightfury as a partner and Hiccup struggles over the decision to possibly marry Astrid (America Ferrera), his partner since the first movie. The primary driver of the plot is the battle against Grimmel and his dragon army. There are two problems here, however, the first being that the two storylines seem to be, at best, very distantly connected to each other in any significant way. The plot makes some suspicious twists and turns in order to get them to line up meaningfully, but it just ends up seeming forced.
Another reason why these connections seem to hold very little impact can be traced to the second main problem with the story: Grimmel just isn’t a very interesting villain. His backstory is explained in the shortest and briefest terms possible, but what information is offered is very much standardized villain fare. Even the film itself seems to know how dull of a character he is, as he appears to flit in and out of scenes, quickly espousing a few lines about his motivations here and there, and then disappearing just as quickly. The movie might have been much more enjoyable if it had just focused on Hiccup, Astrid, and Toothless, as Grimmel’s inclusion almost seems to be an excuse in order to shove in some lively action scenes.
Yet these unfortunate aspects of the story shouldn’t scare anyone away from watching the film. There’s some great fan-service sprinkled throughout, and the ending is both touching and fulfilling. Overall, The Hidden World is a solid, if not slightly flawed, spectacle that should appeal to the majority of people.
Featured Image by DreamWorks Animation