Some might say that you can’t teach an old dragon new tricks, but you’ll find that the opposite is true in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the enchanting finale to DreamWorks’ animated epic fantasy trilogy. The third outing with Hiccup and Toothless doesn’t quite reach the same sensational heights as its two predecessors, but another rousing adventure proves that second sequels can sometimes truly work, and a fitting and emotional farewell demonstrates the studio is capable of pursuing the artistic route by giving its greatest franchise a proper conclusion.
After roughly two decades of pandering to audiences with fart jokes and obvious pop culture references, DreamWorks Animation finally proved that the studio was capable of producing compelling, mature entertainment for viewers to cherish with its first rich, stirring near-masterpiece How to Train Your Dragon in 2010. Featuring the awkward outcast Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as the first Viking to tame a dragon, the film tackled otherness in the wrappings of a fairy tale in the tradition of Disney, and with an epic scope in the fashion of classic fantasy.
Helmed by Disney’s Lilo & Stitch animation directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, this unprecedented film put DreamWorks on the same playing field as Pixar, the undisputed authorities of CG animation. In How to Train Your Dragon 2, DeBlois returned to do something that Pixar has only been able to do once with Toy Story: produce a sequel that not only matched the first in terms of quality, but in some aspects surpassed it. With a touching subplot involving Hiccup’s long-lost mother, as well as an explosive third act, this was one outstanding sequel.
Due to the towering legacy of its two predecessors, The Hidden World faces a monumental challenge: to not only rank among its forbearers as the finest in its genre, but to close the series in an appropriate and satisfying manner. Considering this mammoth task, it’s not surprising that Dean DeBlois and his staff were unable to submit such astounding work the third time around, but thankfully, the studio has produced a gratifying final entry to this stellar series. With heartfelt storytelling, The Hidden World is a worthy capper to a truly great trilogy.
After Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) met Toothless and forged a new society of Viking and reptile in How to Train Your Dragon, he was reunited with his long-lost mother in How to Train Your Dragon 2, and then tragically lost his father, and subsequently took his place as Chief of Berk. In this third and final chapter, Hiccup is still finding his footing as Berk’s new leader, and never passing on an opportunity to save an oppressed dragon, always welcoming them back home with him. Consequently, the tiny island is struggling to adapt to the new excess of fire-breathing residents.
Meanwhile, a new foe emerges in the form of the vile Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), who has been hunting dragons his entire life, and has set out to kill every last living night fury. Once Hiccup realizes the tiny island of Berk is beyond defending against his merciless coalition, the young chief takes a gamble and sets sail with all his people to find a storied dragon utopia at the end of the world that may only be a myth. Along the way, a mysterious white dragon that looks just like Toothless follows, and a new love between the last of their kind begins to blossom.
After the hulking menace of Drago Bludvest (Djimon Hounsou) was vanquished in the previous film, The Hidden World faces an imposing task in following him up with a formidable enough villain to match, and Abraham’s Grimmel mostly shoulders that burden, even if his presentation is not quite as memorable. After Bludvest’s grandiose posturing and commandeering of a massive Alpha, Grimmel’s more covert style of espionage and sabotage is less terrorizing in comparison, and makes for a serviceable, if slightly underwhelming antagonist for the climax.
Similarly, considering How to Train Your Dragon 2’s epic multi-stage battle with Bludvest that dominated half of the film’s run time, The Hidden World’s more relaxed pace and casual stakes render a rather mellow finish to what has been overall an action-heavy trilogy. While that may disappoint some viewers who relished the second movie’s stronger emphasis on dramatic warfare, this more laid-back approach does allow for a closer focus on the characters who fans fell in love with in the first film, laying the groundwork for a truly heartfelt final journey.
DeBlois and his animators certainly haven’t lost their touch when it comes to their charming and imaginative creature designs relating to their dragons (look out for the tribble-like hobgobbler). A standout sequence involves Toothless’s endearing display of courtship as he fumbles his way trying to impress the pretty new white dragon. The clumsy dance is adorable, and the two dragons just might steal your heart. You’re also bound to feel Hiccup’s pain as he begins to feel both like a father who who is forced to give away his child, as well as a jealous former best friend.
It all serves to lay the foundation for an earnest and poignant farewell, in which this story really is given a legitimate conclusion that proves that (at least for now) DreamWorks is serious about giving this series a proper exit, rather than continuously grinding out sequels into oblivion. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World may not provide the artistic crescendo you may have hoped for, but it does provide its characters a moving goodbye, and effectively rounds out a series that represents some of the full range of potential of not only animation, but of film in general.