Film Review: “How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World”

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” offers a visually stunning and heartwarming conclusion to Hiccup’s and Toothless’ adventure.

*Spoiler alert: The following article contains spoilers about the first and second “How to Train Your Dragon” films for contextual purposes.

When viewers first visited Berk in 2010, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) was the only villager who believed in the friendliness of dragons. Through sheer determination, love, and the help of a cuddly yet deadly Night Fury dragon named Toothless, Hiccup charmed his way into the hearts of even the most skeptical of Vikings. From that moment to the present, audiences have laughed, cheered, and cried every step of the way as Hiccup grew up, suffered loss, fell in love, and found hope. On Feb. 22, Hiccup’s tale came to its stunning conclusion with the release of “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” and with it the end of an almost decade-long franchise that defined the childhood of many a college student.

“The Hidden World” opens differently than the previous films — instead of Hiccup’s classic “This is Berk” intro, viewers are greeted by an ominous dragon-trapping boat at night. Suddenly, a night guardsman is confronted by a dark figure with a flaming sword and a dragon, who are quickly revealed to be Hiccup and Toothless. What follows is an epic, if not very disorganized fight scene, as they and their friends rescue the imprisoned dragons. Upon returning to Berk, though, it’s clear that the villagers have accepted so many rescued dragons that they are overrun by them. This makes the island a sitting target for their many anti-dragon enemies, who we later learn have hired Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), the man who hunted the Night Furies to the brink of extinction, to capture Toothless. As Toothless is the island’s alpha dragon, Grimmel’s control over him would mean that he could control all of Berk’s dragons and easily hand them over to the cruel chieftains. In response, Hiccup decides to find the hidden world, a mythical land where dragons originated and predominantly reside, so that the residents of Berk and their dragons may relocate there to live in peace.

Up until this moment, Hiccup and viewers alike were under the impression that Toothless was the last Night Fury alive. Yet as Grimmel closes in on Berk, he reveals that there is, in fact, one remaining female, dubbed a “Light Fury,” who Toothless falls in love with on sight. For Toothless, wooing the Light Fury means learning what it means to be independent again both physically and emotionally. Subsequently, Hiccup has to learn to let go a little and to trust in Toothless’s decision-making and the strength of their friendship. Ultimately, even though the main romance of the plot remains the budding relationship between Toothless and the Light Fury, an even greater love story develops in his loyalty and love for Hiccup.

Running parallel to Hiccup’s relationship with Toothless is the development he experiences with his relationship to Astrid (America Ferrera). While it was clear in the second film that they were dating, here audiences witness how their relationship changes under their community’s — mostly Gobber’s (Craig Ferguson) and Tuffnut’s (Justin Rupple) — pressure to marry. Here some viewers may become frustrated if they think that this is another forced marriage plot in a children’s movie. Yet the way that Dreamworks handled Astrid’s development from the role of a girlfriend to a fiancee actually sends positive messages about how life partners are supposed to support and encourage one another to grow. It is clear that Astrid would not be losing any of her independence in becoming a wife, but rather joining and supplementing Hiccup’s rule as a chieftess.

This film was, however, not without its flaws when it came to its broader characterization. Grimmel is probably the weakest villain of the entire series, listing only a personal desire for praise and crave of “the hunt” as his motivations. Moreover, one of the running gags of the film is Snotlout’s (Jonah Hill) crush on Hiccup’s mom, Valka (Cate Blanchett), and jealousy over her apparent favoring of Eret (Kit Harington) over him. Considering that there are more than 20 years in age difference between Valka and Snotlout, this crush comes off as more cringeworthy than funny and is undoubtedly the worst of the series’ running jokes. Other than these ultimately minor details, however, “The Hidden World” did a superb job with character development, even continuing and referencing specific moments of characterization from the animated series based off the films, “Dreamworld Dragons.”

What truly made “The Hidden World” great, though, was its visual animation. Every scene was a testament to how much Dreamworks’ animation has developed, with no detail left unnoticed. In one scene, the sand on a beach is so realistic that viewers can tell just how damp it is by its consistency when Toothless scratches out a trench. Clouds, grass, and hair all are animated to be vibrant, yet maintain their natural textures and movements. Viewers can catch how the light shines off of individual scales during dragon close-ups, and everything is animated to a point of realistic surrealism even during the more fantastical scenes of the film. Truly, this film is a work of art in itself outside of the intricacies of its plot.

Overall, whether you are a new viewer or a diehard fan since childhood, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” will elicit intense feelings of nostalgia and happiness. It’s difficult to say goodbye, but as Hiccup reassures us, Berk is wherever its people are. And so, Toothless and Hiccup will continue to be with us.

Rating: A-
Director: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Kit Harington, Kristen Wiig, Gerard Butler, F. Murray Abraham, Jonah Hill
Release Date: February 22, 2019