DreamWorks has made a trilogy-ender for what might be its best franchise yet. "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," is out today, nine years after the original — meaning the kids who fell in love with Toothless the Night Fury may be about to embark on a new journey of their own. Does "The Hidden World" wrap things up nicely, or is this one of those movies where the door's left open for more dragons (and dollars) to come? Here's what the reviews have to say:
The Movie Sets Up Some Time-To-Grow-Up, Trilogy-Capping Stakes
The first film introduced us to an awkward Viking boy named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel)—who's also the son of a fierce Chieftain—and a reputedly dangerous dragon named Toothless. On Hiccup's craggy island of Berk, young people were trained to kill dragons, but Hiccup befriended Toothless after he initially wounded the Night Fury dragon, and even created a prosthetic tail for him. Following their example, the Berkians learned that they can befriend and be befriended by dragons.
There are two main developments this time out: Hiccup's plan to move his colony to the Hidden World, a mythical dragon paradise that may or may not exist, and Toothless falling in love with a fellow night-fury[…] Not that Hiccup and his cohort want to move. The pilgrimage is spurred by the misdeeds of Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a dragon hunter whose view of the creatures is considerably less utopian than Hiccup's.
DreamWorks Has Upped The Visuals Once Again
Master cinematographer Roger Deakins served as a consultant on all three movies and I'm guessing he played a part in developing the exquisite quality of natural light, particularly in the flying scenes and a stunning phosphorescent-lit encounter.
From its inception, this series has insisted on a widescreen style different from that of other animated features, attempting to map the live-action idea of "magic hour" onto virtual landscapes and stylized human figures. Here, the visuals outdo anything we've seen before, to such a degree that we might almost overlook the subtler innovations in the character animation: the nuances of expression on both the human and reptilian faces, and the wonderful nonverbal tactics the artists use to convey emotional intricacies neither Hiccup nor Toothless has had to communicate before, all of which pays off in an unforgettable final scene.
The Scripts Doesn't Quite Know What To Do With Its Large Supporting Cast Of Humans, Or Dragons For That Matter
The script, by returning writer-director and series mainstay Dean DeBlois, sags with subplots. One of them involves boastful sidekick Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and his weird fixation with Hiccup's mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett)—though it's honestly a little unclear whether he's seeking a surrogate parent, a mentor, or something less platonic. (Competition for her attention comes in the form of Kit Harington's deeply inessential Eret, who seems to have been introduced in the last installment for the sole purpose of being voiced by somebody from Games Of Thrones.)
To reach those lovely, near-wordless scenes of intimate communion between the young Viking leader Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his black-scaled companion, Toothless, you have to endure a few inscrutably busy action scenes and an awful lot of strained, obnoxious banter among Hiccup's many, many friends. Since we've reached the end of a trilogy, couldn't at least one of them have been incinerated or taken a fatal tumble along the way?
The muddled metaphor of the dragons becomes a serious obstacle to the themes of the film because in some scenes, dragons are supposed to be equals with humans. When Grimmel rails against dragons, he treats them as inferior and as "thieves" and "killers", thus conflating his prejudice with the bigotry of those who also lack familiarity with another group. But in other scenes, the dragons are just unique pets.
There's Still A Bit Of A 'Star Wars' Vibe To The Proceedings
Clad in dragon-scale armor, his renegade silhouette suggesting a guerrilla in the mist, Hiccup brandishes a flaming sword that's like this series' version of a lightsaber. The original "Star Wars" trilogy is clearly an inspiration for these movies, with their parental revelations and monomythic hero quests, although DeBlois knows better than to wrap things up with an Ewok jamboree.
Like its predecessors, "The Hidden World" shares some pop-mythological DNA with "The Black Stallion," "Star Wars" and a rich tradition of big-screen fantasy. If the setup and plotting feel a bit perfunctory, the longing for home, with all its suggestions of settling down, achieves a genuine resonance.
The Conclusion Will Hit Younger, Longtime Fans Hard…
Watching How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, I was reminded of another animated trilogy capper: Toy Story 3. Both are animated series that basically aged with their audiences. If you started watching these movies when you were a kid, you're at a very different point in your life watching the third installment, and both movies are kind of about putting childish things away.
The elegiac ending is simplicity itself, a perfect close to a wondrously imperfect story.
If you've spent any time with these characters, it's hard not to get swept up in the saga, and it's easy to be moved by the bond between Hiccup and Toothless, who is, in effect, a very loyal dog who can fly and harness the power of lightning bolts.
… But Otherwise, The Appeal Is Mostly Surface-Level
Though obviously aimed at kiddos, this chapter of "How to Train Your Dragon" might be best appreciated by below-the-line enthusiasts with an appreciation for the nitty-gritty that goes into an animated movie with a reported price tag of $129 million. You can see every cent onscreen, often in more vivid detail than you can see Hiccup's internal journey.
The Hidden World doesn't really stop giving you lovely things to gawk at. But as an act of storytelling, it's curiously perfunctory, never rising to the level of effort and care put into creating its cornucopia of visual pleasures.
The series has earned affection for its characters and its disarming premise. Now it's time to let it go.