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Movie Review: ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ crystallizes a fantastic animated trilogy

Movie Review: ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ crystallizes a fantastic animated trilogy

Director: Dean DeBlois
Writers: Dean DeBlois, Cressida Cowell (based upon the “How to Train Your Dragon” book series by)
Stars: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham, Gerard Butler

Synopsis: 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.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the latest from Dreamworks and it caps off one of the best trilogies we’ve seen in recent years, animated or not. It’s arguably the lesser of the three films, but it’s still great in progressing the relationship of Hiccup and Toothless, and of course the striking emotion that comes with that, which is as stirring as ever.

The Hidden World picks up some time after the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2 where Hiccup and his gang have continued to rescue dragons and bring them back to Berk. The problem, though, is that Berk is now on the verge of being overrun with too many people and the dragons they care about. Hiccup now has to find them a new home that has enough space for everyone, and he remembers of a secret place that his father told him about when he was a young boy; a hidden world where all Dragons originated. While this is happening, Toothless finds and becomes entranced by a Light Fury (a white-scaled Night Fury) whom he tries to court. In the process, those two narrative throughlines collide in ways that provoke some of the more robust emotional moments in the series.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, like its predecessors, is first and foremost about the central relationship of Hiccup and Toothless. They both endeavor on parallel romantic arcs that advances their individual characterization while simultaneously tapping into notions regarding the nature of human and non-human relationships. Hiccup and Astrid talk about possibly getting married while Toothless goes off on his own, really for the first time since meeting Hiccup, to romantically pursue the Light Fury. It’s quite funny and endearing to see how Toothless goes about doing that, demonstrating an innocence and exuberance that continues to make him a fascinating character. At the same time, however, the romanticism that comes about is arresting, graceful and beautiful. In particular, the moment where Toothless and the Light Fury engage in a gorgeous aerial ballet that cements their bond is one of the most breathtaking scenes in all of animation. The visual imagery is incredibly evocative and rivals the space dance scene in Wall-E. The moment is also vital because it forms this interesting dichotomy where Hiccup realizes how/why Toothless needs the Light Fury for his own growth, but it’s going to come at the cost of something deeply personal for himself.

The Hidden World, much like Ralph Breaks the Internet last year, is about place and why it’s important for us to be exactly where we are meant to be. Ralph Breaks the Internet filters that idea (profoundly I might add) though the lens of co-dependency and insecurity, something that Hiccup veers dangerously close to himself. It’s not verbatim, but in a similar way to Ralph being lost without Vanellope, Hiccup finds himself identity-less as Toothless goes on his romantic quest. This makes him vulnerable and it puts Berk in danger as it severely effects his decision making. Things get even more complicated for Hiccup once he realizes that finding The Hidden World will not give him the answers he’s seeking, but rather change his relationship with Toothless forever. This beautifully ties back to the first How to Train Your Dragon which depicts dragons and humans’ inability to co-exist, an idea that becomes deconstructed throughout the trilogy. The Hidden World suggests that co-existence is possible, but perhaps Stoic was right in the sense that humans have their place, and dragons have their own as well. Those themes are not only sophisticated and nuanced, but they crystallize in gut wrenching fashion.

There will be a lot said about the final ten minutes of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, and for good reason. It sticks the landing impeccably. The resolution between Hiccup and Toothless is extremely poignant, elegant and thematically perfect. It says a lot about co-existence and place, and how sometimes those things aren’t exactly what we wanted them to be.

The Hidden World isn’t without its faults. Some of the film’s humor is awkward and tacky, especially in the utilization of Ruffnut and Tuffnut, who are a bit overly used. The main antagonist of Grimmel is effective in driving the main story, its emotion and themes, but as a character on the page he’s somewhat thin and underdeveloped. A great vocal performance from F. Murray Abraham helps make up for that though. Other performances, such as Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett and Gerard Butler also help band-aid any blemishes that come with this film.

Overall, the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy will, and should, go down as one of the best we’ve seen over the years. The duo of Hiccup and Toothless is unforgettable and their journey is endlessly engaging. The emotion of this series is affecting for both children and adults alike. John Powell’s scores for these films are all-timers. Easily some of the best composition ever made for an animated film. Dreamworks may be best known for its Shrek series, but it’s How to Train Your Dragon that aligns them next to Pixar and Disney as creating some of the best animation to date.

Overall Grade: A-

Hear our podcast review on Episode 314:

InSession Film founder and owner. I love film. Love art. Love how it intersects with our real lives. My favorite movies include Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows, Modern Times, The Godfather and The Tree of Life. Follow me on Twitter @RealJDDuran. Follow us @InSessionFilm.

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