In 2010, DreamWorks Animation, who at the time was arguably the primary competitor to Pixar known for such smash hits as “Shrek” (2001) and “Lilo and Stitch” (2002), directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders created a film that is still seen as the studio’s most daring accomplishment in regards to animation filmmaking: “How to Train Your Dragon.”
This simple story that takes place on the island known as Berk, in which a young adolescent named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), befriends Toothless, a black-colored dangerous dragon that is known to his Viking community as a Night Fury, became one of the best films of the year, and also one of the best animated films in recent memory.
The film’s critical and financial success eventually led to the sequel “How to Train Your Dragon 2” in 2014, which did what any great sequel should do – build upon the story, while also continually developing the characters and raising the stakes even further.
Now, five years later, this trilogy comes to a thrilling conclusion with “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” ultimately wrapping up one of DreamWork’s most critically-acclaimed animated franchises.
Since the advent of the first film, times have changed for the island of Berk. What was once a community full of Vikings whose sole purpose was to capture and kill as many dragons as possible, have managed to tame these fire-breathing beasts almost as if they were their own pets.
However, even with this change of heart, Hiccup and the rest of his Viking friends, including his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera), still have to face various dragon trappers who still fail to see how this can be possible.
One of those trappers, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), is not only determined to capture all of Berk’s dragons, but to also kill Toothless, who is apparently the last-living Night Fury. In order to save the dragons once and for all, Hiccup and the Vikings decide to leave Berk behind in search of the “Hidden World,” a beautiful paradise inhabited by different breeds of dragons that have lived in harmony for centuries.
The journey itself becomes a little complicated when Toothless begins to fall for a Bright Fury, essentially a white-colored Night Fury, traveling nearby, possibly signaling an emotional rift in Hiccup and Toothless’ friendship later on.
After the visually stunning and emotionally moving first two installments, there is no doubt that “Hidden World” has some major shoes to fill. And honestly, before getting into what really worked about this third chapter, it’s important to address that “Hidden World” is easily the weakest of this entire trilogy.
For one, Hiccup’s journey to find the Hidden World in the first place seems somewhat rushed, and despite the fact that this mysterious location still remains to be discovered by a Viking community, which is further emphasized by how it’s (apparently) located at “the world’s end,” it seems more like a simple trip from “Point A” to “Point B” more than anything else.
Even when our characters eventually arrive at this dragon paradise during the second act, only a few minutes of screen time is actually dedicated to it, and it doesn’t really feel fleshed-out as a result. Grimmel, the film’s main antagonist, never seems fully fleshed-out either, and while his motivation is rather easy to understand, it’s still difficult to resonate with this character.
Simply put, a great villain is not only intimidating, but more importantly has a psychology that the audience can understand, while at the same time realizing that they’re still the antagonist of this story. Grimmel, even with some effective voice-work by F. Murray Abraham, never actually embodies this type of characterization.
With all that said, “Hidden World” does contain many of the elements that made its predecessors so beloved. The animation especially in regards to the flying sequences is absolutely breathtaking, and at its core this is still Hiccup and Toothless’ story.
Their chemistry together is what has kept fans invested in the franchise since the first installment, which makes it all the more upsetting during the final few minutes. Without going into spoilers, “Hidden World,” despite some of its faults, manages to end this franchise on an emotional high note, one that will most likely leave fans feeling teary-eyed as soon as the credits roll.
That emotional core, above all else, has been the driving force behind this franchise since the beginning. “Hidden World” may not be the strongest of the “Dragon” trilogy, but when it comes to concluding the story that originally began almost a decade ago, needless to say, it most definitely satisfies.