Film Review: How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

If sequels generally produce mixed results, then animated sequels have an even less impressive track record. Shrek is a great movie, but the sequels all deliver diminishing returns. Similarly, the Despicable Me, Madagascar and Ice Age series have all fallen off too. Even Pixar and Disney have had stumbles, and even their successes like Monsters University, Finding Dory and Cars 3 haven’t quite lived up to the first films. Last year both The Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet fell a little short for me, and I’m slightly nervous about Frozen 2 coming out later this year.

Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule, and the obvious example is the Toy Story trilogy (hopefully not about to be wrecked by a needless fourth instalment), which used the sequels to develop and move the characters forward in a satisfying way. Toy Story 3, the emotional finale to the trilogy, served as a perfect place to leave the characters, and it’s a similar vibe that is pursued here, a send off for the dragon Toothless and his viking buddy Hiccup (Jay Baruchel).

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Set some time after the second movie, we join Hiccup and his friends have continued to build Berk, their home, into a utopia where humans and dragons live in harmony. Hiccup’s dragon, Toothless, a rare Night Fury type, is the alpha of the dragons, their leader just as Hiccup is the tribal chief. Hiccup is determined to rescue as many dragons from captivity as he can, even as it puts strain on the island and it’s resources.

Things get trickier still when a new enemy enters the picture. Tired of having Hiccup scupper their plans to create a dragon army, a group of warlords contact Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a notorious dragon slayer who has hunted down almost every Night Fury in existence, Toothless seemingly the last of his kind. Grimmel lives for the hunt and enjoys playing with his prey, and views Hiccup’s dream of dragon and human harmony as folly.

One of Grimmel’s assets is a rare Light Fury, a related species which he uses to distract Toothless and hopefully drive a wedge between the dragon and the chief. Hiccup’s decision is to flee from Grimmel, taking all the Berkians and dragons to the mythical Hidden World, where they will be safe.

Can he outsmart Grimmel, who seems to know his every move? Can he overcome his fears that without Toothless he is nothing and not worthy of being chief? Will the Berkians agree to the new plans? And will Toothless leave him for his new love?

I really liked this movie because it handles the crisis that Hiccup goes through in a really subtle and emotional way. In the first movie we’re introduced to the nerdy and weedy Hiccup, and it’s only after he befriends Toothless that he starts to achieve things and gain status among the vikings. After the death of his father he has to take charge, and finds himself forced to make difficult choices.

As Toothless begins to pull away and some of his plans go awry, we see Hiccup start to worry that without his dragon he’s nothing and not fit to lead. It’s down to his girlfriend and right hand woman, Astrid (America Ferrera) to convince him he’s more than just a dragon rider, and help him to realise who he really is. While Astrid is a good, strong female character the relationship is never really developed, or given greater depth. The audience from previous films are already invested, but there’s always been a sense of it just having happened, not having developed naturally or believably. But really, it’s just a subplot, as the films are really about a boy and his dragon.

Hiccup and Toothless’ friendship has always been the heart of the series, and this continues here. Always at each other’s side and happiest together in the air, the duo are forced to deal with what life may be like apart. Toothless, his tail damaged in youth, can only fly thanks to a rudder built and controlled by Hiccup, and Toothless gives the one legged Hiccup more freedom than he would have. They compliment each other and live almost in symbiosis.

But the arrival of the Light Fury on the scene throws this into jeopardy, as she is less trusting of the humans and Toothless can not pursue her. Hiccup having to decide to redesign the replacement tail attachment, not sure that Toothless will choose to return and he may lose his friend and control over the dragons is a tough choice. Unfortunately, the film passes over it very quickly and it would have benefited from having Hiccup struggling with it more.

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There’s a whole theme of growing up in this film, with the central friendship being a symbol of youth that both characters may have to discard as they mature. It’s a nice theme throughout the film, and really works because it shows that we often have to give up things we love in order to grow and for the greater good. This of course, sets up some emotional scenes in the closing stages, as Hiccup has to set aside some of his dreams and say goodbye to his old friend.

The final scene, set years later, has a genuine heartwarming feeling, a sense of continuing friendship and an optimistic suggestion that mankind can change, and Hiccup’s dream of living with dragons may one day be achievable.

Hiccup’s love of the dragons, and desire to live peacefully with them is in direct contrast with the villains, who seek to exploit and use the dragons for their own ends. There’s a kind of subtle green message, about how we need to work with nature, to preserve it as we benefit, and not to just destroy it for our own ends. It’s never hammered home but that’s what I drew from it.

It helps that the visuals are stunningly beautiful, and the design of the dragons, which come in a variety of interesting and unique breeds, is inventive and imbues the creatures with a sense of character and personality about them. And the film has plenty of laugh out loud moments and decent gags. It’s one of those movies that does almost everything right, and serves as a really good farewell to the world the films have built.

It’s not up there with Toy Story, but this rounds off a charming and entertaining trilogy in a fitting way, it just could have had a little more depth in places.

Verdict: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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