How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the third installment in the How To Train Your Dragon series, wrapping up the animated trilogy in fine fashion. The movies are adapted from the books by Cressida Cowell, although latter films have deviated a bit from the source material. This newest entry perfectly wraps up the overarching series storyline without requiring audiences to go back and read the synopsis from previous films (which, I’m sure, they’ve seen already). Even if you somehow missed on the previous two films there’s enough here to guarantee you’ll feel right at home.
Throughout the first two movies, young Viking leader, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), convinces his dragon-hating community that dragons and humans can live together peacefully. He succeeds, to the point where each human has his or her own dragon, the scaly beasts quickly becoming a huge part of the local culture. However, as we see in The Hidden World, the rest of the world isn’t quite on board with the program and still hates dragons, wanting them all dead.
None more so than Grimmel the Grisly (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), the most notorious dragon hunter, who catches wind of a Night Fury (the most infamous of the dragon breeds) still alive. That dragon is Toothless, Hiccup’s best friend and the catalyst for everyone’s change of heart in the first film. Toothless is lovable and sweet, like a puppy. But Grimmel isn’t one for cute, and will stop at nothing to hunt and kill Toothless – the last known remaining dragon of his kind.
Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), Hiccup’s late father, was obsessed with the Hidden World – a legendary safe haven where dragons can live peacefully without interference from humans. Thought it may be little more than myth, Hiccup is determined to uncover the location of the dragon refuge. With Grimmel breathing down their necks, Hiccup decides that this is the perfect opportunity to set out and find this mysterious Hidden World and help secure the safety for all dragons.
Visually, The Hidden World is the best in the franchise, though not necessarily story-wise. Aesthetically it’s as beautiful as we’ve come to expect from the series, with much of the same sense of wonder and mystical environments that have made the Dragon franchise so much fun to watch. Dean DeBlois once again directs, though it never feels like we’re watching a masterpiece for this go-around, perhaps due to a 2nd act that moves a lot slower than we’re accustomed to.
Not as much happens during the middle chunk of the film, instead a lot of time is spent on experiencing the aesthetics of this world rather than moving the plot forward. Narratively, there aren’t a lot of places left to explore, except in building relationships and purpose. The switch to a more visual narrative isn’t without its pleasures, however, and can be rewarding for those more observant viewers.
One scene in particular really demonstrates this, where Toothless is getting to know Light Fury, a female dragon. He’s vying for her affection, trying to get her to want to get to know him. I was initially taken back by the absurd duration of this sequence, but eventually realized the magnitude of what was really going on. The moments between the two amorous dragons are executed so perfectly they never come off as indulgent or pretentious, instead organically building a relationship between two characters who don’t speak. It’s noticeably longer than it need be, but when you really think about it, this sequence is necessary – even if it avoids a potentially disastrous outcome.
In a lesser movie, this scene might have been thrown together haphazardly, with only the overall purpose of introducing these two creatures to each other. Here, it’s well thought-out and meticulously choreographed, rather than merely feeling obligatory to move the plot forward. It never feels contrived, which is unusual for mainstream animated movies. There’s still plenty of humor to go around, of course, and The How To Train Your Dragon films have always possessed something intangible that sets them apart from other mainstream animated features,
There’s definitely a villain in order to propel the story, but the main focus is how Toothless finds love and sees the world as larger than he thought. How Hiccup manages to cope with Toothless leaving him – his winged friend no longer the most important thing in his life anymore – will feel painfully and authentically familiar to parents everywhere. It’s sad, but also bittersweet. And a pretty mature concept for a kids’ movie.
Fortunately, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World isn’t just a cheap cash grab. It not only helps completes a story, but allows us to reconsider the world we’ve lived in for three full films, at least on a more sympathetic level. Some will no doubt scoff at the lack of real meat in the story itself, and for those parents just wanting another animated babysitter to spend a few hours with, this may be true. But as a work of visual and emotional storytelling this compromise is the result of a movie that’s trying to make us think as well as entertain us.