Concluding with ‘The Hidden World,’ the ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ franchise goes down in history as one of the best trilogies ever made.
How long does it take to train a dragon? For DreamWorks, it takes three films. Its final installment, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, suggests that the last part of the process is learning to let go of the thing you love most. With the Isle of Berk increasingly becoming unsustainable due to overpopulation, along with an external threat from nefarious dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), village chief Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) must consider breaking the harmonious coexistence among dragons and vikings. The answer lies in the quest to find a mythical hidden world for dragons to live in peace, but with it comes the possibility of Hiccup and his best friend Night Fury, Toothless, parting somewhere along the way.
This pervading theme of separation anxiety—quite similar to that in Toy Story 3—can be a gloomy subject to begin with. Not to mention that Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) already lost his left leg by the end of the first film and a loving dad by the second, you think that our protagonist has sacrificed enough. But this is a franchise that revels in sincerity, both in words and in action; a series that does not hold back in the difficulties that comes with responsible growth and inevitable change. Director Dean DeBlois has planned and executed everything with such palpable love and care. The Hidden World caps off the trilogy with a big emotional punch. Cue in John Powell’s stirring musical score, it feels earned and satisfying.
Majority of the satisfaction comes from Hiccup’s full and adequate arc development. It’s fairly a proud moment to realize that the character has gone a long way from being an awkward teenager into a burgeoning wise leader. Armed with a flaming sword and taking inspiration from his valiant father Stoick (Gerard Butler), Hiccup is a dragon in his own right. While the first two films are about the actualization of his dreams, the third film is about Hiccup advocating his life to a larger cause. True enough, he still has a huge room to grow in order to fit his father’s shoes. The good thing is, whenever his confidence wavers, he can always count on his steady support system. His girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and his mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) are there for guidance and wisdom, while his oddball group of friends, despite being viewed purely for comic relief, contribute a lot to lighten up his mood.
The heart of the film, however, is his friendship with Toothless. The weight of their shared experiences in the past heavily hangs here. Hence, this film has the benefit of utilizing complex and well-rounded characters who have a deep understanding of each one’s concern and desire. In here, Hiccup plays wingman to Toothless when the creature finds out that he is not the last of his kind. As soon as Light Fury is introduced, viewers will be immediately disarmed by the amount of charm in display. A standout mating ritual scene between the two dragons (do note that this is just quirky dancing and nothing more) is easily the most adorable scene in the film.
It’s worth noting that the animators deserve all the praise for paving the path to a visually intimate storytelling. Apart from a monumental character development, the same can be said for the franchise’s improvement in animation since it first started in 2010. The color palette and intricate detail soar in technical achievement – from a low-key level like the wisps of Hiccup’s beard, to the majestic flight sequences and the bioluminescent caverns. The Hidden World no doubt pays homage to Avatar. By now it becomes clearer that animation is not only intended for children – a proof that it can be a potent medium to convey emotions that otherwise would not have the same effect in a live action setup.
The voice acting remains to be poignant and affecting – Baruchel, specifically, is as endearing as ever. And the film also takes advantage of its excellent sound mixing and design. Powell’s musical score effortlessly blends into the scene without you actively noticing it.
While this closing chapter does not strike as groundbreaking as the first two – it has some ‘hiccups’ along the way such as Valka being underused or Grimmel having an unexplained vendetta against dragons, this film has enough continuity and call backs to make it a relevant body of the franchise. In particular, it’s nice to see that this film makes use of Hiccup’s wingsuit that he’s working on in the second film.
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World brings a refreshing amount of nuanced and emotionally intelligent lessons on character strength building and acceptance – at some point, DeBlois even argues a point for animal rights. It’s only fitting that the kids who started this journey ten years ago, get to enjoy the film’s mature themes, now as young adults. Growing along with its audience, this trilogy marks a satisfying and bittersweet end to the era of dragons. What a triumphant high.
4.5 out of 5 stars