Film Review – How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
The How to Train Your Dragon series is not only one of the best animated series of the new century, but one of the best film franchises period. The journey of the young Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his friend – the Night Fury dragon Toothless – has been an emotionally captivating story from the start. And with the apparent final chapter, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019), writer/director Dean DeBlois and his team have put a satisfying conclusion to that story. It’s thrilling, adventurous, and poignant in all the right ways. There may be more popular animated properties, but few have been as consistently good as this has been for nearly a decade.
The CGI in the How to Train Your Dragon films have always been appealing, but with The Hidden World it is absolutely stunning. The perspectives and angles of the cinematography (headed by Gil Zimmerman) acts as though it were taken by an actual camera. Where others animate sequences by allowing the camera to zoom around like an apparition, the designers here chose to keep things more grounded. Sure, when Hiccup and Toothless are flying the camera follows suit, but in nearly all other scenes the frame holds as though the camera was a physical object within the environment. When Hiccup flies above a waterfall, the shot is taken from a wide angle with the frame slightly shaking, similar to footage captured from a helicopter. The opening action scene – taking place on a ship during a foggy night – keeps the camera at the character’s eye level, gliding around elegantly as though it were on a track or gimbal.
But the beauty of the animation only acts to serve the story and character development, and that’s where The Hidden World shines. This time around, we find Hiccup as the leader of his people, and the connection they have developed with Toothless and other dragons have caused their small island home to be overcrowded. Fearing that the overpopulation may cause them to be a target for enemies, Hiccup decides to lead his clan – including his friends Astrid (America Ferrera), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Gobber (Craig Ferguson), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), Eret (Kit Harington), and his mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) – overseas to find the legendary “Hidden World,” where humans and dragons can live together peacefully without being threatened by the outside forces.
The plot mechanics take a back seat to what the narrative is really about: the changing dynamic between Hiccup and Toothless. They are best friends, but both are growing up and their paths may lead them in different directions. For Hiccup, he must deal with being a leader, thinking not for himself but for everyone that believes in him, and living up to the legacy of his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler). Some of the more dramatic moments deal with flashbacks where a young Hiccup is mentored by his father on what it means to do the right thing. For Toothless, we finally get to see him develop as the alpha dragon, with all others following behind. He also gets a nice romantic subplot in which a female Night Fury – or “Light Fury” as she is nicknamed – catches his eye. The extended courtship between Toothless and the Light Fury works like a modern-day silent film, with Toothless playing the Charlie Chaplin role.
The only real issue with the narrative is with the main antagonist, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham). Grimmel is a fierce warrior who has dedicated his life to hunting dragons, even proclaiming that he is the reason why the Night Fury is an endangered species. When he learns of Toothless and the Light Fury, Grimmel takes it upon himself to take both down, along with any other dragon or human that may stand in his way. Grimmel’s motivation here is not very well laid out, as he is relegated to your classic villain who lives only to do bad. However, some of the specific dialogue he uses hints toward some real-world implications. The way he condescendingly spits out phrases like, “You think dragons are our equals?” reflects the current social climate we live in. This may or may not have been done purposefully, but I couldn’t help but make the connection. Grimmel’s feelings toward dragons is steadfast, even though he never gave an opportunity to understand them.
But even with that slight misstep, I really enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Throughout each entry of the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, we’ve witnessed these characters grow step by step. Some even undergone changes that remain permanent, and that’s a credit to the production. They weren’t afraid of going beyond their comfort zone, they challenged themselves to take these characters to places without reverting back to the status quo. They never played it safe, and because of that the trilogy has elevated to something truly special – with The Hidden World being a near perfect exclamation point.