‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ caps the ‘Dragons’ trilogy with stunning visuals and stirring emotion

By Victoria Pfefferle-Gillot, Senior Staff Writer

It feels like a privilege to grow up with a beloved movie series and have a strong bond with the world and characters as a result. Dreamworks’ “How to Train Your Dragon” series is one of these generational treasures and has spanned nearly a decade — the first “How to Train Your Dragon” premiered on March 26, 2010, and its sequel on June 13, 2014. This third, final film caps off the coming-of-age story that started with a timid, scrawny Viking teen and his dragon.

Released on Friday, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” — written and directed by Dean DeBlois — has earned widespread critical acclaim and is visually dazzling and mature with its storytelling. Its heart is etched deeply into the fabric of the movie. “The Hidden World” doesn’t pull any punches with its production and finishes the three-film tale of Hiccup and Toothless in a satisfying and emotional way.

Taking place one year after the events of the previous film, “The Hidden World” follows Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) — now chief of the Viking island tribe of Berk — as he seeks to create a human-dragon utopia. However, as he rescues more dragons from hunters and brings them back to Berk, he is overcrowding the island and drawing unwanted attention from neighboring warlords, who hire notorious dragon-hunter Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) to capture Toothless for them.

In an effort to protect both his people and the dragons, Hiccup proposes they leave Berk on a quest to find the eponymous “Hidden World” — a legendary safe haven for dragons that Hiccup’s late father Stoick (Gerard Butler) once told him about.

Both of the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies that came out before had stunning visuals by Dreamworks animation and “The Hidden World” is no different. The animation is absolutely incredible from the minutiae of facial expressions to sweeping, crowded action sequences. The cinematography in tandem with the animation is well-shot, making the audience feel each time Hiccup and the others fly with their dragons that they are actually there experiencing it with the characters.  

The life and color in the film is breathtaking. The color can be seen especially in the Hidden World, a neon-lit place of awe that lies in the heart of a waterfall cavern in the middle of the ocean, past twists and turns through a rocky subterrain. The dragons are colored in luminescent tones and the dragon eggs glow with the life growing inside.

The dragons of the film of course are a big highlight, with the main recurring set — Toothless, Stormfly, Belch and Barf, Meatlug and Hookfang — showing off idiosyncratic developed connections with each of their riders. The new Light Fury dragon, who is unnamed, was initially seen in promotional material as a sexist — or at the least, lazily designed — feminine, pretty version of Toothless, a Night Fury dragon whose design resembles a black cat crossed with a newt.

The Light Fury is smaller, white and visibly smooth, with fewer fins and shorter wings while Toothless is larger, black and visibly scaly, with more fins and longer wings. Despite appearing to conform to the feminine gender-role design trope, the Light Fury does upend it through having a functional design and legitimate purpose rather than just an aesthetic one.   

Vocal performances are just as strong as they have been. Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera continue their stellar performances of Hiccup and Astrid, and so do the rest of the cast, with the exception of Tuffnut — whose previous voice actor, TJ Miller, was replaced by Justin Rupple. Cate Blanchett reprises her role as Valka, Hiccup’s long-lost mother, from the previous film and stands out despite having a smaller part in the film.

All of their emotions come clear through the dialogue they share with each other and their dragons. It is difficult to portray a close bond well when only one character is human and can talk, but the palpable feeling in the voice acting shines through and pairs beautifully with the animation of both human and dragon expressions across the board.

The ever-present but invisible character of a film is its music and “The Hidden World” does not disappoint. John Powell — who composed the previous entries in the series — brings his A-game with lovely and moving pieces of music like “Third Date”  and “Once There Were Dragons”, the latter of which brings me to tears just listening to it on its own.

“The Hidden World” has a notably slower pace than the previous two films, featuring only a few hot-blooded action pieces. It focuses more on character, specifically the Light Fury, Toothless, Hiccup and Astrid, with the side characters relying mostly on familiarity and the new characters just filling a role. In addition, there’s not much backlogging work that catches the audience up if they haven’t seen the previous films — the story begins right in the middle of ongoing action. For those who know the world and these characters, it’s great not to need to pause and reintroduce concepts, but the uninitiated might lose their attention as to what’s going on.

Some side-plots and character choices felt unnecessary, like one running gag of Tuffnut giving Hiccup advice on being a marriageable man for Astrid. What is meant to be comedic relief falls flat and feels canned. Grimmel doesn’t necessarily carry a lot of weight as a villain, though it doesn’t really feel like he should, as the emotional core of the film lies with Hiccup and Toothless’ — and the Berkians and their dragons’ — connection and the surrender of that connection. If you’re looking for a serious villain, however, this one does not feel as strong and can feel disappointing.

Being with all of these characters again, growing up with them — almost literally — has been a rewarding experience. There’s a great importance of seeing age, especially in a kids’ film series. Seeing everyone get older in their own way allows there to be a more realized world that the audience can relate to, rather than a series where no one really looks any older or ever changes. It adds the message of growing up to the message of loving and letting go.

If you love the “How to Train Your Dragon” films, there’s a high chance you’ll get emotional by the third film’s end — maybe even start crying. The audience must say goodbye to the series, just as Hiccup must learn to let go of Toothless, and the weight behind this makes the story that much more moving. For fans old and new, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is well worth finding.