MOVIE REVIEW: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World




One of the most exceptional qualities of the How to Train Your Dragon films are their undaunted sense of encouragement. Too many animated film entries targeted to kids are dominated by crass and crude humor. We may laugh, but we don’t grow. This hit franchise stewarded by writer-director Dean DeBlois always achieves the latter in splendid fashion. Through its motivating attitude, rich pathos, and indomitable spirit, the final chapter of How to Train Your Dragon celebrates the substance that has made this series triumph.

LESSON #1: ROOTING SOMEONE OR SOMETHING ON — This signature encouragement occurs often in the simplest dialogue of an imperative or exclamatory cheer. As a benevolent and fire-breathing Toothless takes to the clouds and soars over surf, the visuals dazzle and the music swells, but it’s the words that add extra. Bigger than pep talks, every hopeful “go,” helpful “you can do this,” exasperating “yeah,” thankful “this is awesome” punctuate excitement with battle cries of supportive emotion rather than hollow indifference.

These beautiful bonds are what elevate How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. It is one year after the climactic events of the 2014 second film. Our emerging heroic leader Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) narrates the customary introduction of Berk. Continuing the wondrous and evolving world-building of the first two movies, the cliffside settlement is now a teeming and colorful favela of large birdhouse-like dwellings sharing space with the cozy chalets of the native Vikings. Joined by his training buddies and the loyal love of Astrid (America Ferrera), Hiccup has assumed his late father Stoick’s place beside his returning mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) and trusty mentor Gobber (Craig Ferguson).

LESSON #2: DIFFERENCE MAKERS IN BATTLE — In order to secure and extend peace beyond Berk’s borders, Hiccup and his crew have mobilized to target dragon trappers and poachers to free the captive creatures as a way of collecting strays, so to speak, to join their sanctuary. The young leader has empowered his countrymen to yoke the dragons’ allegiance and power, giving them a superior combative advantage not unlike how tanks and fighter jets prevail with ease over foot soldiers. Warriors, you need to get yourself a dragon.

Hiccup’s forward momentum of “picking fights” has provoked the ire of the realm’s most feared dragon hunter, the smoothly sinister Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham, smooth and sinister himself). As Gobber warns, Hiccup may have picked a fight he will finally use. The evil tactician is flanked by fiery-acid spewing monsters and commands a powerful white Fury dragon, supposedly the last female of its kind. This alluring potential mate becomes bait to wrestle away Toothless, the controlling alpha of the whole flock. Grimmel’s threats and pursuits set the peril and adventure into motion towards the titular mythic haven of all the dragons, but not before a little romance paves the path before danger.

LESSON #3: KNOW HOW TO STRUT — Age, status, and organic taxonomy do not matter. A male or female seeking to make an impression of interest and affection needs to know how to show off. From cricket chirps, firefly glows, and the wild scents of pheromones to putting forth your best appearance or even the ability to dance, a creature needs to be able to strut. It’s not too much if it works and scores you a potential partner. Go for it. You’ve got two tender dragons in The Hidden World that will steal your heart.

My goodness, do the ever-progressing upgrade in computer animation really show here. You would think a few years would not make a distinguishable difference, but wow! In the same sharpening way the 2014 sequel looked better than the 2010 starter, this finale is eye-poppingly gorgeous from heavens to horizons. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins returned as a visual consultant for the second consecutive film and his eye is wholly apparent in the lavish glow of every lightbeam, shadow, vista, and texture. If the visuals aren’t knockout enough, composer John Powell’s third How to Train Your Dragon score is inspirational and exhilarating. The man earned an Oscar nomination from the ethnic refrains and themes of the first film and it’s not too early into 2019 to say he deserves another.

Try as it may, not every trait can advance upward for this conclusion. The middle film is an awfully tough act to follow and it shows. The levels of emotional weight and soaring action, while entirely fitting and more than considerable, are a noticeable step below part two. Here in the third, dimwitted sidebar characters like Kristen Wiig’s Ruffnut, Justin Ripple’s Tuffnut, and Jonah Hill’s Snotlout rob and smear too many moments with lame chicanery. Their bits feel overwritten and from an entirely different movie, unlike the deft comic timing of Ferguson’s ruffian and the balance provided by the soulful presence of Blanchett’s matriarch.

LESSON #4: THE IMPORTANCE OF GAINING FREEDOM — Ending on the positive, this lesson speaks to a goal that defines a undeniable core of character integrity that is strong for this big finish. Our heroes experience a quest of mystery and discovery, creation and destruction, and, most of all, rising love and departing sacrifices. All of those moments arrive with both personal and shared freedom in the center. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World arrives at this final lesson with genuine care and, to circle all the way back, encouragement.