A film review by Craig J. Koban March 10, 2019

RANK: #8



2019, PG, 98 mins.


Jay Baruchel as Hiccup  /  Gerard Butler as Stoick  /  Craig Ferguson as Cobber  /  Jonah Hill as Snotlout  /  Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs  /  America Ferrara as Astrid  /  Kristen Wiig as Ruffnut  /  T.J. Miller as Tuffnut


Written and directed by Dean DuBlois






Dreamworks' HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON franchise has been one of the sublime surprises of the animated film world, which began so modestly, yet powerfully with the 2010 original that told an epically staged Viking fantasy storyline featuring an awkward and shy lad befriending an elusive dragon (mythical beasts that were sworn enemies of humanity).  That introductory installment taught noble and timely messages of tolerance and acceptance of those deemed different, themes that continued to be brought to the forefront in the inevitable 2014 sequel, which I thought was even better than its predecessor. 

Now comes HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD, which miraculously carries on this series' stunning artistic quality control by being a breathtakingly beautiful animated sequel, but it's also a dramatically poignant franchise/trilogy closure that earns heart-tugging finale.  It's pretty staggering how each HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON entry tops what came before, and now as a whole I can confidently place this trilogy among some of the finest of recent times.  

Writer/director Dean DuBlois deserves high praise for concocting a narrative with a definitive through line weaving into all three features, and one that relays the co-dependent relationship between young Viking Hiccup (who we see grow from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood over the course of the series) and the last of his kind Night Fury dragon, Toothless, who can only fly with Hiccup via a prosthetic tail that he crafted for the wounded creature.  The central arc of the entire franchise is the notion of getting to know your enemy against all other odds and learning how to harmoniously live with them.  HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD further explores the ever-growing maturing of these two souls and now forces them both to deal with the idea of moving on and following their own destinies apart.  For fans of this series, and without going heavy into spoilers, there shouldn't be a dry eye among you as this film wraps up.



Picking up things a year after the events of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, THE HIDDEN WORLD now hones in on Hiccup (leader of his tribe of Vikings after the passing of his father) realizing that his homeland of Berk faces mounting pressures from villainous outside forces.  He seeks out the dragon utopia known as "The Hidden World" that would prove to not only be a safe haven for Berkians and their hundreds of pet dragons, but also could be a safe, secure, and secretive place to co-exist away from those that threaten their way of existence.  This is all hammered home during an early raid by Hiccup and his clan against a squadron of sea faring dragon catchers, and after freeing a group of these caged creatures Hiccup realizes that Berk has simply become too overcrowded...and a big target for other poachers out there that would like to make dragons all but extinct.

Following a series of bread crumb-like clues left by his father in the form of a series of torn, but interconnected maps, Hiccup and Toothless manage to actually locate the majestic Hidden World, but things get complicated for their bromance when a newly discovered white and female Night Fury (which is dubbed the Light Fury) emerges and starts to capture the romantic eye of Toothless.  As Hiccup has to deal with the heartbreaking notion that it might be best to let Toothless go so he can bond and spend time with one of his kind, a ruthless dragon killer named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) reveals himself and threatens Hiccup to kidnap both Toothless and the Light Fury and rid the world of their kind once and for all.  This builds towards Hiccup and his fellow Berkians going on the offensive to ensure that Toothless and the Light Fury have a future together, as well as ensuring the survival of their race as well.

Whereas the last two HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON films dealt with the budding and tender friendship between Toothless and Hiccup, THE HIDDEN WORLD now tosses in the intriguing angle of a romantic companion for the former in terms of the Light Fury.  Some of the finest and most emotionally potent moments in the film are the long stretches involving the courtship of these two perfectly matched dragons, and DuBlois shows great care and patience in slowly building their relationship throughout.  To Hiccup, the Light Fury represents the last of his kind that he could form a loving bond with to create more of his kind (that, and her unique ability to teleport herself intrigues him, leaving him smitten with her on multiple levels).  Of course, the Light Fury doesn't initially take kindly to Toothless' starry-eyed advances as a love interest, but THE HIDDEN WORLD contains many silent sequences involving their playful flirtation that ultimately builds to mutual love.

THE HIDDEN WORLD is also a bravura showcase reel for some of the finest and most awe-inspiringly detailed computer animation you're likely to find in any other genre effort this year.  This third film - like those before it - is positively teaming with picturesque landscapes and gorgeous scenery, perhaps the finest being the initial fly by into the Hidden World itself, which is absolutely alive with vibrant neon hued colors and a rich menagerie of dragons of all shapes and sizes.  It's frequently forgotten by most that these films had secured the services of iconic and Oscar winning cinematographer Roger Deakins as a visual consultant, and it still abundantly shows.  The visuals have such an eye-popping richness and sense of atmospheric naturalism despite its fantastical setting and cartoony looking personas.  HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD - like great works of fantasy, animated or not - is a deeply generous film in terms of it inviting you into its world and building our immediate immersion from the ground up.  It's also a highly rare breed of modern film that actually commands and deserves consumption in the 3D format: THE HIDDEN WORLD is simply a tour de force artistic triumph on the same technical level - if not higher - than anything in Pixar's canon.

As beautiful as THE HIDDEN WORLD is as a pure out-of-body piece of visual escapism, the film still has what so many other animated films lack, which is a heart and soul and focus on the human (and non-human) dynamics.  Hiccup in particular is afforded great depth and dimension over the course of three films, who's shown at multiple vantage pointS in his young life going from introverted village tradesman to a courageous bucker of human/dragon relationship status quos and finally to jaded and worried tribal leader (this new film manages to sprinkle in some poignantly rendered flashbacks to Hiccup's and his father - once again voiced by Gerard Butler - that reminds us of a quieter and less stressful time for him before he became a destiny maker for his kind).  THE HIDDEN WORLD also has a fantastic villain in the quiet spoken, but gravely dangerous Grimmel, whose unwavering determination to kill every waking dragon on the planet (with the exception of a few frightening acid spitting dragons under his command and spell) makes him a new kind of dangerous entity to this series.  And like great and memorable villains, he doesn't seen himself as a villain, but rather a savoir of the human race that just happens to support the mass genocide of an innocent race of creatures that he deems as different, undesirable, and dangerous.

The film culminates to a climatic showdown between all parties, with the underlining peaceful co-existence between the Berkians and dragons being held in the balance, not to mention Toothless' future with his new dragon bride-to-be.  By the time the film reached its deeply satisfying and emotionally effective end it really dawned in me that the third and final films in a trilogy really have no business being as grandly envisioned and dramatically absorbing as THE HIDDEN WORLD.  This series trajectory as a whole has showcased the evolution of the growing love between Hiccup and Toothless, two beings that share a friendship despite being from two completely different worlds.  Before, there was the element of learning to understand your misunderstood neighbor instead of just blindly slaying them, and now there's the concept of learning to live apart from those that you've spent a better part of a life growing to cherish.  HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD builds towards an ending of deeply sad closure that also hints at a bright and uplifting future for its characters.  

The first HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON felt like something wonderful and special that audiences mutually discovered, and I found myself teary eyed letting this franchise go as I exited the cinema during my screening.  

Not many trilogies elicit such feelings in me by their conclusions.  

This one did.  

And its ending is kind of perfect.  

Just bring plenty of Kleenex. 

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