How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

11 Nov

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I enjoyed “How to Train Your Dragon” more than I expected to, given its admittedly-cheesy storyline, because it showed skill and strength to make it feel fresh and new. “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” I liked even more because it added to the ideas of the original, which all great sequels do. “How to Train Your Dragon” has become DreamWorks’ most surprising franchise since “Kung Fu Panda,” and I had hopes for this third installment: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” Did it live up to those hopes?

Trick question. Yes, it did. As the (possibly-) final installment in this successful, fun and even heartwarming series of animated films about Vikings and dragons, it’s just as enthralling and exciting and gorgeously animated as the previous two films, but because this is our farewell to these characters (unless we’ll catch up with them nearly a decade later, a la “Toy Story 4”), it’s also very emotionally satisfying. You will believe a boy and his dragon will make you feel things.(That’s as much as I can reveal without spoiling anything, but I’ll add that the resolution is more inevitable than it is predictable.) 

Will “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” be the last we see of these characters? Maybe, maybe not. But as the concluding chapter of this particular trilogy, it’s wonderful seeing them wrap up their story as is. 

Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel, whose “honking-goose” voice is actually acknowledged at one point by a supporting player), the young protagonist of the previous movies, is now the chieftain for the Viking village of Berk, which lives in perfect harmony with dragons. He, along with his dragon Toothless and his friends (including his betrothed fiancee Astrid, voiced again by America Ferrera), leads raids to rescue captured dragons and bring them back to the village, leading to overpopulation. Seeking to fix the problem, Hiccup decides to use his late father’s notes to try and track down “the Hidden World,” where dragons live in peace. But he has to make haste with help from all villagers, as the villainous Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), who hunts and kills dragons, seeks to kill Toothless, as he is a Night Fury, the species of dragon that Grimmel wants to rid the world of. Knowing it takes a dragon to trap a dragon, he uses a female Night Fury (a light skinned one—a Light Fury) to attempt to lure Toothless into his trappings. 

Grimmel isn’t a very complex villain, but compared to the previous film’s villain (just a ruthless warlord), he at least has a slimy charisma to himself and does deliver as much comedy as threats. But the film isn’t necessarily about him or his plan—he’s merely a McGuffin (though an entertaining one). It’s more about Hiccup’s coming-of-age journey to lead people with confidence and courage while also learning how to cope with change as he’s encouraging everyone else to accept it. He has to lead the villagers to a new place to call home where they’ll be safe from Grimmel’s further advances while he also has to come to grips with the very real possibility that’s eventually going to have to let Toothless, who has fallen in love with the Light Fury, break away from his only friend. It’s an engaging personal quest to follow, and Hiccup continues to grow as a character with each passing movie. His crisis of confidence is further assisted by returning characters such as Astrid and Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) by his side. 

Oh, and there’s also Tuffnut (T.J. Miller), one of Hiccup’s comic-relief friends whose main purpose is to give Hiccup some “helpful” advice, most of which is about the concept of “marriage,” which Hiccup and Astrid are both unsure about. Tuffnut’s sister Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) had a good share of the comedy in “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (and she has one great scene in which she’s captured by the villains and then let go because she’s so damn annoying); this time, Tuffnut has that distinction. A little obnoxious, but I’d be lying if I said he didn’t get a few laughs out of me.

And speaking of laughs, there’s a great comedic moment that feels like a Chaplin/Keaton silent film…but with dragons. It’s when Toothless tries to engage in “dating” with the Light Fury and has trouble impressing her. (It also doesn’t help that he can’t fly on his own, and the Light Fury spends very little time off the ground.) Toothless is nothing short of adorable here. 

But how do the visuals hold up? I think each “How to Train Your Dragon” movie looks better and better. The flying scenes are still incredible. The animation of the characters and the world around them is always impressive. And the scenic elements are wonderful—with the excellent cinematographer Roger Deakins on hand as visual consultant, I’m not the least bit surprised how great it looks. 

If this is the last time we see Hiccup or Toothless, at least we had three terrific movies to spend time in their company. “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is an exceptional final chapter in an effectively fun trilogy, and I’m sure I’ll revisit all three films in a row in the near future. 

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