Minor Spoilers for How To Train Your Dragon 1 & 2
Though it might be a stretch for some, I don’t think it would be too far off the mark to say that the How To Train Your Dragon (HTTYD) series is Dreamwork’s magnum opus. Much like Pixar and their acclaimed Toy Story, the first HTTYD burst onto the scene to much critical acclaim, winning multiple awards in the process.
But the Toy Story comparison doesn’t stop there, as said success meant that a sequel quickly appeared, followed by an extended wait until the third and final installment. Considering HTTYD is a franchise that overcame the shackles of its child-focused imagery, managing to resonate with a cross section of movie-goers; it’s difficult not to have high expectations with the release of The Hidden World. Can it reach the heights of the heart-breaking Toy Story 3?
A year has passed since the events of HTTYD 2. Our hero, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), has ascended to village chieftain. Though still reeling from the death of his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), Hiccup has turned his village into a nirvana for dragons.
But said bliss is threatened by the arrival of Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a brutal dragon-slayer who believes that the flying beasts are inferior creatures and must be eliminated. Meanwhile, Hiccup’s dragon, Toothless, has become entranced with the discovery of a “Light-Fury”, a female Night-Fury.
As such Hiccup faces his greatest challenge yet. To protect the dragons under his care and save his village, all the while knowing that he might lose his best friend.
Say what you will about the HTTYD series, but ugly they are not. Like the preceding two entries, The Hidden World is a beautiful smorgasbord of colour and imagination. From the opening epic battle scene to the ethereal beauty of the Hidden World itself, there has clearly been an attempt to, not only match the vibrant heights of the first two entries, but to elevate the world of dragons into an ocular extravaganza rarely seen in animated cinema.
Of course, the MVP of the HTTYD series has always been composer John Powell and his rousing score. To Powell’s credit, he doesn’t rely on the bombastic Test Drive piece from the first HTTYD (though fortunately it does make the occasional glimpse in The Hidden World.) Instead Powell keeps trying to build on what came before, with The Hidden World (the song title, not the film) being an especially grand example of how one piece can blend romance, epic wonder and tragedy into a towering crescendo.
Plot-wise though, there is much to be desired. It’s true that threequels can come in all shapes and sizes. On the one hand, you might have something like Return of the King, which actively picks up the plot threads laid out in the preceding two films. Others might be far closer to films like Logan; essentially a stand-alone entry. The Hidden World hews towards the latter, mostly ignoring the natural plot-threads that were begging to be picked up at the close of the first sequel. While this is understandable, considering the 5 years that have passed since the previous entry; it’s hard not to be disappointed that more effort wasn’t made into making this film the true “climax” of the trilogy.
Furthermore, The Hidden World seems rather lacking in its ability to balance the numerous characters from the previous two films. A sort of “too many cooks spoil the broth” situation. While characters like Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) are expected to have significant roles; individuals like Valka (Cate Blanchett) are painfully underused, seemingly only here because they appeared in a previous installment.
Despite these failings, the poignancy of the film’s final 10 or so minutes is utterly undeniable. To reveal more would be far too much of a spoiler, but considering that we started our HTTYD journey nearly ten years ago; it is one hell of an ending for Hiccup and Toothless.