The Dance of Dragons
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is directed and written by Dean DeBlois and stars the voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, and F. Murray Abraham.
After having re-watched the first two How to Train Your Dragon films and then watching The Hidden World recently, I feel confident in finally sharing what has been my long-standing belief about the How to Train Your Dragon films and what they're really about underneath the surface: the relationship between humans and non-human animals. If we wanted to go even deeper, the argument can be made that the How to Train Your Dragon films are more specifically about the relationship between humans and dogs. Evidence for the dragons mirroring dogs is there in all three films: the dragons love to get their necks scratched the way dogs do, they love to eat "people food", and Toothless fetches Hiccup's prosthetic leg and growls when another dragon tries to take it away. It would be a lot of fun to talk about how much the dragons have always acted like dogs, but I think the argument would be more open-minded if we consider the fact that other animals, not just dogs, are capable of bonding with humans and doing goofy, adorable things.
In addition, the How to Train Your Dragon films take us through the most pivotal stages when it comes to having a non-human animal in your life, most typically as a pet. The first movie was about meeting the animal and learning how human and said animal can work together. The second movie was about growing up and going through some of life's toughest challenges with the animal at your side. The Hidden World takes on what is easily the hardest stage of all: letting go. It's sad that DreamWorks' beloved animated world of Vikings and dragons must come to an end, but with the mature and powerful way that The Hidden World closes out the trilogy, it's better that years down the road, we look back and be thankful that we ever got this magical trilogy in the first place.
One year after defeating Drago Bludvist and saving Berk, Hiccup, Toothless, and their friends continue to live in harmony, spending their days rescuing captured dragons and bringing them back to Berk. Despite these good intentions, Berk has become overstuffed with dragons. Realizing this issue, Hiccup announces that he will set out to find the "Hidden World", a place where dragons can live free from harm. Meanwhile, dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (Murray Abraham) teams up with a group of warlords, the latter of which have captured a white-colored, female Night Fury. Upon learning that Toothless is another living Night Fury, Grimmel decides to use the female Night Fury (dubbed as a "Light Fury") as bait in order to capture Toothless and give to the warlords.
Toothless later meets the Light Fury in the woods outside of Berk and instantly falls in love. However, the female dragon flees upon noticing Hiccup and Astrid. Hiccup and Toothless then discover dragon traps that Grimmel had laid around Berk, and after Grimmel pays a visit to Hiccup, threatening to capture Toothless, Hiccup rallies all of Berk to set out and find the Hidden World.
- The animation is superb in each of the first two How to Train Your Dragon films, but The Hidden World's animation is on a whole other level. At times, the animations is simply drop-dead gorgeous to look at, particularly the scenes in the rainbow-esque Hidden World and scenes that occur on an island that the Berkians start to settle on. The Hidden World is an explosion of colors, never distracting from the parade of dragons that are flying around. The lush-green landscapes on the new Berkian island are lovely to look at too, like a reminder of those beautiful views you'd get while going on a mountain hike. Along with being so visually attractive, The Hidden World's animation looks at times incredibly realistic. The scene that stuck out to me the most was Toothless flirting with the Light Fury on the sandy island shore. The attention to detail as Toothless is drawing lines in the sand is simply exquisite; the sand is crumbly and flies around in a way that wouldn't be feasible with any standard animation software on a normal computer. It's the best of both worlds when it comes to the animation: a standard that all animated films of 2019 should strive for.
- There's also no denying the power of the film's ending, one that ensures this is the end and that there will never be a How to Train Your Dragon 4. While I won't give away direct spoilers of how the movie ends, it is important to mention that one of the most important things about the movie is not merely that it's the end of the journey for Hiccup, Toothless, and the rest of Berk, but that there is a lesson that can only be learned when it is indeed the end: with love comes loss. The How to Train Your Dragon films have mostly been focused on the friendship between Hiccup and Toothless: how they come to know one another and how they overcome some of life's greatest challenges together. It might have been all fine and dandy had the trilogy concluded with a happily ever after in which Berk hits cloud nine: living forever in harmony with their dragons, entirely free from danger. Dean DeBlois does not settle for such a joyous ending, however, because that would not give the full timeline of the human-animal friendship. DeBlois creates a sense of completeness by having the movie end with Hiccup and his friends coming to grips that their time with the dragons is finite, and that the day will come when in which they must learn how to let go. This is getting dangerously close to direct spoilers, but it's vital to mention this all-important final step to the story, because showing that loving someone or something means having to say goodbye one day helps the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy transcend beyond being just charming animated children's films (which, let's be honest, that's what they are). Understanding the way the movie addresses letting go creates a complete picture of the commentary this trilogy has been giving on loving another, particularly a living being like a dog or cat. You can't have love without experiencing loss, and as much as it hurts when it ends, one of the bets things is looking back and knowing you were able to have that love.
- I apologize for gooping so much over the meaning of the film's ending. As mature and praiseworthy as The Hidden World's ending is, the movie is not without its flaws. For one, Grimmel is a tad disappointing as the film's human villain. A part of it is that he has to follow up on the great villain that was Drago Bludvist. Bludvist was intimidating and merciless. Grimmel, on the other hand, walks and talks like a snobby English man who thinks he's a lot more frightening than he actually is. The script doesn't seem to care a whole lot about Grimmel's desire to kill all the Night Fury's, because it gets tuned out by the budding romance between Toothless and the Light Fury, leaving poor Grimmel with hardly anything to do during the film's second act. The movie also makes the bizarre decision to have Snotlout Jorgenson (Jonah Hill) constantly propose ideas and try to sound all high and mighty among the larger group. The way I see it, it's comic relief that doesn't work.
So thus, we come to the very end of my own reviewing of the How to Train Your Dragon films. Hard to believe that this trilogy has been spaced out over the course of nearly a full decade: more than enough time to fall in love with Hiccup and Toothless' friendship, as well as enjoy the other charming characters that this trilogy has had to offer. The Hidden World says farewell to its world of Vikings and dragons with a gorgeously animated and emotionally moving final installment that signifies the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy as one of the best and most mature animated trilogies of all time. It's a trilogy where the beginning, the middle, and the end are all executed at an incredibly high level, detailing all the highs and lows of a friendship between a human and a non-human, something that everyone, not just children, can gravitate towards. Saying goodbye is never an easy thing, but twenty, thirty years down the road when we look back and continue to marvel at how wonderful the How to Train Your Dragon movies are, instead of feeling sad that this is the last time we get to see Hiccup and Toothless go on adventures together, let's be happy that DreamWorks blessed us with these amazing films, and we never have to think about how different recent animation history would be, had these films never been made.
Recommend? Yes. Be sure to have seen the previous two films.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: