Synopsis – When Hiccup discovers Toothless isn’t the only Night Fury, he must seek “The Hidden World”, a secret Dragon Utopia before a hired tyrant named Grimmel finds it first.
My Take – Films from DreamWorks Animation have always been a hit and miss. While they prevailed with releases like the first two Shrek films, the Kung Fu Panda series and the Madagascar films, they have also stooped to new lows in animated story telling with the final two Shrek films and its god awful but financially successful spin off Puss in Boots, Rise of the Guardians, Turbo and The Boss Baby.
However one animated film franchise, due to various reasons, manages to distinct itself out of the pack, the beloved ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ series, based on the books by Cressida Crowell. Released in 2010, the first film surprisingly captured a magical quality and heartwarming story that was usually unseen outside of films from Disney and Pixar, and catapulted it to great critical and commercial success. Its sequel, released in 2014, ended up being equally lavish and resonated with a similar success.
But what makes this third installment special is that it is meant to bring this 3D-animated trilogy about a boy meets dragon story to a shining, satisfying conclusion. Thankfully, under the guidance of three-time franchise writer/director Dean DeBlois, this final film manages to be even more spectacular than its predecessors and has all the heart and spirit you could hope for. Unlike many animated films, it brings plenty of character to its child-friendly drama, with heart and laughs taking precedence over tension.
While a four year gap may seem like a long time for fans to wait for each installment, here, the filmmakers have ensured a well-crafted production, making the wait totally worthwhile. This film is everything an epic animated fantasy adventure should be, thoroughly entertaining and heartwarming, thereby making it a splendid entry among one of the best animated films of all time.
Taking place a few years after the events of the last films, the story follows Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), who has now become the young chief of the village of Berk, which has embraced its dragon occupants wholeheartedly. Continuing his quest of dragon liberation, Hiccup and his faithful companion Toothless, a sleek black Night Fury who is the last known dragon of his kind, along with their comrades which include Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), the spirited and emotionally astute fiancé of Hiccup, Snotlout (voiced by Jonah Hill), the image-obsessed second-in-command, Fishlegs (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the stocky sketch artist, Ruffnut (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (voiced by Justin Rupple), the bickering twins and of course, Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett), Hiccup’s mother.
While their weapons and armor have been upgraded in the interim, with the crew all donning flame-retardant suits made from dragon scales, it doesn’t seem to stop them from bickering constantly and getting in each other’s way, much to Valka’s bemused frustration. All this time, Berk has become a home to hundreds of dragons, filling every cubic inch of available space with the villagers deeply relying on their scaly friends for both the practical benefits that they offer and companionship.
However, there on going quests have also made them an enemy of furious warlords and poachers, who now hellbent on revenge recruit Grimmel the Grisly (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), a notorious dragon slayer, who will stop at nothing to eradicate all kinds of dragons even if a human comes in the way. With a target on their backs, Hiccup decides the best way to save his village and their resident dragons is to find the mystical the Hidden World, a place where dragons have supposedly originated from, a place his late father, Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler) often spoke about as a new home for the villagers. But unknown to them, Grimmel has a secret weapon in the form a beautiful female white night fury, (the light fury) which he plans to use to lure Toothless away.
Here, the characters are older, maybe a little wiser, but they still hold all the silliness and magic of our first introduction to Hiccup and friends’ way back in 2010. But the dialogues are more wise-cracking and knowing, geared to appeal to young teenage boys rather than just children. It can be hard to weave humor into a story that is drawing a beloved franchise to an end, and yet, inexplicably, they’ve managed it beautifully.
However, the film’s coming-of-age story might remain familiar, its emotional arc may be broad, and its messages about self-belief and taking chances fall into the tried-and-tested camp, but director DeBlois still builds an engaging, sincere and tender world brimming with depth and detail. Apart from being a fun, rip-roaring adventure, the film also hits on some universal themes like growing up, friendship, responsibility and tolerance. This series has never shied away from darker themes of pacifism, complex family relationships and discrimination.
In a rare move for animations, the characters here actually have significant development. The Hiccup, Astrid and Toothless we meet in the first film are very different by the time number three rolls around. Watching the characters emotionally mature and reach their potential is actually uplifting. The greatest strength here has been the deep bond between Hiccup and Toothless, a boy-and-his-dog trope that anchors the whole series. Their synchronicity and loyalty is the trilogy’s emotional core.
Meanwhile, Hiccup’s relationship with the feisty and capable Astrid has also reached a point where marriage is on the cards. It’s no longer some swoony teen romance, but one that actually reflects how people grow comfortable with each other, relying on each other for more than just lust. It’s a matter of trust. They each have to make hard decisions and branch outside their comfort zones – something we can all relate to.
Indeed, with Roger Deakins once again credited as a visual consultant, the film’s charms take flight in its imagery, which doesn’t miss a chance to swoop, soar, or fill the frame with color and movement. The action scenes are also dazzlingly choreographed, tending towards long takes and frames crowded with bustling figures, flame and smoke, moving from place to place, with even more imaginative, colorful dragons flying around. The detail with which the animations renders sand and cloud formations is astonishing, while the rich imagination on display in the colorful, kaleidoscopic structures of the hidden world dazzle.
Hands down the best scene of the film would be when Toothless attempts a courting ritual, spurred on by Hiccup hidden in the shrubbery. If it was possible to love a 3D-animated creature any further, Toothless proves it. As he tries to win over the Light Fury, he hops, dances, frowns and overexerts himself to hilarious, endearing effect. The score by returning composer John Powell is also highlight. Powell’s cues are emotive when they need to be and soar when the dragons take flight. His contribution to the series cannot be downplayed.
This is allegedly the last in the series. That’s probably a good idea because it would be hard to keep improving. The third film delivers on all fronts, except freshness. And it is important that you see the first two films before this one, as it’s more knowing, and focused, but still full of wonder.
The voice cast also get their moments to shine. Led by Jay Baruchel, who excels once again in carrying this film emotionally and brings the right amount of empathy to his character and relationships. While America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Ferguson, Djmon Honsou, Cate Blanchett and even Gerard Butler return and make a memorable impact in a film packed with different characters. Kit Harington also makes for an interesting addition. However, it is F Murray Abraham‘s villainous Abraham that manages to steal every scene he features in. On the whole, ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ delivers a visually spectacular, exciting, funny and totally heartwarming finale to one of the best animated trilogies of all time.
Directed – Dean DeBlois
Rated – PG
Run Time – 104 minutes