How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) Review

AN EPIC FAREWELL ADVENTURE


 

DreamWorks animation has produced a plethora animated features from both standalone “one and done” cartoons motion pictures to multiple features that make-up a franchise of sequels and spin-off projects. One of these franchises is the How to Train Your Dragon series, which was based off of the book series of the same name by author Cressida Cowell. Debuting back in 2010, DreamWorks released How to Train Your Dragon, telling the animated tale of Hiccup, an awkward Viking teenager, who aspires to follow his tribe’s tradition of becoming a dragon slayer. However, when he does capture his first dragon, he decides to befriend the creature instead of killing: naming the dragon “Toothless” in the process. The film, which featured a solid voice cast, a heartfelt story, and dazzling animation, went on to have both critic and commercial success; earning praises from critics and moviegoers alike. From there, the How to Train Your Dragon took off; branching out and expanding the tale of Hiccup, Toothless, and their friends in various platforms, including four short films (Legend of the Bonekeper Dragon, Book of the Dragon, Gift of the Night Fury, and Dawn of the Dragon Race, a television series (DreamWorks Dragon), which ran for six seasons, and a theatrical sequel film How to Train Your Dragon 2 in 2014. Now, DreamWorks Animation and director Dean DeBlois present the epic final adventure of Hiccup, Toothless, and the rest of the gang in the movie How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Does this movie fly high (into the sunset) or does it fall from grace?

THE STORY


A year has passed since the events of the previous film, finding Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), now the chieftain of Berk after the death of his father Stoick (Gerard Butler), has transformed his small home village into a place where both dragons and Vikings live in harmony. With his faithful dragon companion Toothless by his side as well as his guidance from his mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) and his loyal friends, including Astrid (America Ferrera), Eret (Kit Harrington), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), Hiccup’s ongoing efforts to free the dragons of the world makes him a larger target for other warlords and Viking clan leaders. One such particular individual soon makes his appearance as Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), an infamous dragon hunter, seeks to see Hiccup’s dragon utopia fall, with Hiccup’s Toothless, the last of the male Night Furies being his ultimate prize. As Grimmel closes in on them, Hiccup convinces the citizens of Berk to follow him on a journey to find the Hidden World, a legendary sanctuary realm where Stoick believed where the dragons originally came from, which might offer them (and their dragon companions safe haven. Meanwhile, Toothless encounters a female Night Fury (or rather a “Light Fury”, with the pair entering a mesmerizing courtship with each other. In the end, Hiccup, on his quest to find the Hidden World and evade Grimmel’s attacks, must face a hard truth of leading his people and of his relationship with Toothless as well.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


DreamWorks Animation has definitely had some hits and misses over the years. Personally, I felt that the company (as a whole) started out strong with many of feature films being rather good, with movies like Shrek (at least the first two entries), the entire Kung Fu Panda trilogy, Shark Tale, and Over the Hedge being some of my personally as well as some latter installments like Trolls and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Plus, I liked several of their non-CGI movies (more 2D animated films) like The Road to El Dorado and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. However, DreamWorks sort of had a “fall from grace” as other animated studios contenders started to emerge and produced better animated motion pictures. I wouldn’t say that the studio is a “down and out”, but movies like Home, Turbo, and The Boss Baby felt subpar; showing that the studio has hit a slump. Still, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise (along with the Kung Fu Panda trilogy) were definitely the flagship franchises that the studio embraced and were the DreamWorks’s “cream of the crop”. To be sure, the HTTYD series indeed quite heartwarming endearing and engagingly entertaining, with the two films released being some of my personal animated cartoon movies of all time. The characters are compelling, the story is tender (the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is my favorite), the comedy is funny, the animation designs are beautiful, and the scoring for both films in just incredible. All in all, while I haven’t seeing the television series (although I heard that they were pretty good), the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has certainly (much like its main character of Hiccup) has certainly matured since the began back in 2010…and for the better.

Naturally, this brings me back to talking about How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third and final theatrical animated feature in the theatrical saga as well as the final entry in the HTTYD franchise. Given the fact the How to Train Your Dragon 2 was released back in 2014, fans and moviegoers had a long time before The Hidden World would be released, with the film facing several delays and rescheduling its theatrical release for some time, which were mostly due to DreamWorks Animation reconstructing its company and shuffling projects around. Still, the eagerness and anticipation of the next installment never diminished within me and eventually (in late 2018) viewers (like myself) got our first glimpse of The Hidden World; promising an “epic conclusion to the friendship of a lifetime”. To be honest, I was quite shocked that The Hidden World was gonna be the final chapter in the HTTYD saga, but (at the same time) I kind of hoped it would, especially seeing how DreamWorks ended the Kung Fu Panda movie trilogy on a satisfying high note. So, when the year of 2019 came around, I looked forward to seeing The Hidden World and I did see it a few weeks after its theatrical release. However, my review for the film kept on getting delayed (much like the DreamWorks Animation in releasing the movie), but now I finally have the chance to get my review done for this animated sequel. So, what did I think of it? Did the film end on a high note? To be sure….it did! Collectively, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is an exhilarating and climatic sequel that delivers a strong and sensible finale piece to the franchise. There’s definitely a bittersweet feeling throughout the movie, but I’m glad that saga of Hiccup and Toothless concludes in very moving and heartwarming entertaining way; sending us off with a sense of saying goodbye to these characters in a satisfying way.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is directed by Dean DeBlois, who returns back to the director’s chair after directing the previous two HTTYD feature films as well as directing Disney’s Lilo & Stitch. Given his knowledge and familiarity with the franchise, DeBlois seems like the obvious (and most favorable choice) for helming The Hidden World….and he certainly proves that notion to a fault. To his credit, DeBlois’s familiarity with the series definitely works in the film’s favor; making The Hidden World feel very much like a genuine (and sincere) continuation and ultimately thematically charge (and satisfying) conclusion to the fantasy adventure saga. Much like the Toy Story series (the original trilogy), the HTTYD movies, which span nine years, have grown up and matured alongside the generation of viewers who’ve come of age while watching them. It’s a very reflective experience; one that can only be matched a few movie franchises, and The Hidden World captures the essence of natural progressions of becoming an adult and dealing with several thematic issues beautifully. The sum result of it all makes The Hidden World a fun, exhilarating, and heartwarming tale of friendship, courage, and doing what’s right.

In addition to directing, DeBlois also handles the feature’s story, penning the film’s script’s narrative being told. On that front, DeBlois succeeds, allowing the movie to flow in a natural way that has the franchise’s signature humor and heart that moviegoers have come to expect from the HTTYD series. At its core (and the true heart of the HTTYD series) is in the friendship bond between Hiccup and Toothless and its fully pushed to the test with the arrival of the Bright Fury. In addition, Hiccup’s journey in The Hidden World explores more mature themes of becoming a leader (i.e. doing what is right for his people) and how to handle a more evolved friendship (much like what was represented in Ralph Breaks the Internet). Don’t worry…. DeBlois still makes The Hidden World an extremely suitable family-friendly feature; offering up something for all viewing ages (be humor, visual aesthetics, or dramatic storytelling for a cartoon film). Still, it’s quite impressive to see several of the main characters evolve and develop throughout the course and franchise (and even further in The Hidden World) as opposed to being stagnant with repetitive story / character arcs (i.e. The Ice Age franchise). Thus, in the end, DeBlois’s efforts are in perfect order and certainly makes The Hidden World resonate / harmonize with the rest of the franchise.

Since the release of the first film (way back in 2010), the HTTYD films have definitely grown in richer details and visual animation. Thus, The Hidden World represents the pinnacle animated styles of the franchise; embracing the intricate designs of computer visuals, which looks more fluid and impressively layered of color and texture. There’s a cinematic surrealness to it all throughout The Hidden World, which makes the feature quite mesmerizing, especially within how bright (and vivid) a lot of colors are almost represented throughout (sometimes almost a luminous type of quality). I really could go on and on about the film’s animation, but…. suffice to say… the animation in The Hidden World is beautiful and certainly some of the best work from both the franchise and from the studio behind it. Much like DreamWorks’s Kung Fu Panda film trilogy, the HTTYD movies have always been cinematically spectacular; creating some very dramatic moments that both look and feel great throughout. The Hidden World continues that trend with plenty of cinematic sequences that are quite breathtaking to behold (even for an animated cartoon endeavor). Thus, the talents of cinematographer Gil Zimmerman are well-utilized in the movie and a great achievement in making the film look (visually speaking) amazing. Additionally, composer John Powell, who scored the music for the two previous movies, returns for The Hidden World, layering The Hidden World with some exquisite melodies and pieces in the movie; some of which are new compositions and some that are old staples of the HTTYD franchise. Personally, I love Powell’s music in these movies and his involvement (much like how DeBlois) is certainly a welcomed on this sequel project.

As much as I quite enjoyed this movie, there were some minor problems that I did have with The Hidden World. Perhaps the most prominent one (at least to me) is that the film is a little bit less than the previous to HTTYD feature films. What do I mean? Well, if you look at the all three films (narrative, conflict, plot, characters, etc.), the first two films were well drawn out and had some great internal plotting arcs throughout the animated movie. The first film focused on the formation of Hiccup and Toothless’s friendship and the Hiccup’s relationship with his father, while the second film focused on the finding of his mother (and the revelations that came with it). Thus, despite having a strong formation of the Hiccup / Toothless relationship in the movie, The Hidden World feels less impactful in the inner struggles of the main characters. I’m not saying that The Hidden World is a terrible…. quite the contrary…. it’s a great movie (and justly so), but it seems like the weakest entry in the HTTYD film franchise. Maybe the script handling could’ve been slightly better in making the feature’s story slightly more well-written to rise above the first two HTTYD features.

In conjunction with this idea are several of the movie’s themes and messages. Like I mentioned above, the thematic themes in The Hidden World are quite good and wholeheartedly compelling, but the truth of the matter is that the scenarios of layered ideas and sympathetic messages (regardless how palpable and meaningful) have been well-represented in other animated features films from the past decade or so. Thus, the ideas and symbolism in The Hidden World aren’t exact new or groundbreaking. It’s no reason to hate the movie (by any means), but it just something of a minor nitpick for me. Another minor criticism (again…a very minor one) is the simply fact that the actual “Hidden World” isn’t featured that much in the movie. I really thought it would’ve played more of an important part of the narrative, but ends up being a cameo appearance of a setting. The rest of the minor problems criticisms that I had with the movie is within some of the characters, but I’ll mention those one in a few paragraphs below.

With this being the third theatrical animated feature motion picture, most (if not all) of the principle cast of actors and actresses from the previous HTTYD movies returning to reprise their respective character roles in The Hidden World. Continuing the true main character of this series is the character of Hiccup, who is voiced by actor Jay Baruchel. Known for his roles in This Is the End, She’s Out of My League, and Goon, Baruchel has certainly made the character of Hiccup his own (over the years); embodying the inane goofiness of the persona as well as maturing the character’s journey into becoming a young man. As to be expected, Hiccup’s journey arc in The Hidden World continues to be quite a compelling; focusing once again on his relationship with Toothless as well as becoming a chieftain leader for the people of Berk. Likewise, actress America Ferrera (Ugly Betty and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) continues to do an equally impressive job as Hiccup’s love interest Astrid. Like before, her storyline in The Hidden World follows very much close to Hiccup’s narrative (offering advice and warmth to the story’s proceedings). Still, Ferrera and Baruchel have great vocal chemistry with each other (their back and forth banter is still great) and does play into the overall likeability in Hiccup and Astrid.

The various supporting roles, including actor Jonah Hill (Superbad and 21 Jump Street) as the brash and overconfident Snotlout, actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad and Kick-Ass) as the enthusiastic / knowledge Fishlegs, actress Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids and Despicable Me 3) as the annoyingly Ruffnut, and actor Craig Ferguson (The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and Brave) as the seasoned warrior blacksmith Gobber. These supporting players have always been a part of the tales being told within the HTTYD franchise (both in films and on its television series spin-offs) and The Hidden World makes the most of these characters…. some for comical moments and some to bolster certain characters builds for others. Collectively, each of their correspondent voice talents bring an equal measure of likeability, which makes their involvement endearing in the feature (regardless of whatever part the play in it).

The only vocal performance that doesn’t return in The Hidden World is actor TJ Miller, who provided the voice for Tuffnut (Ruffnut’s fraternity twin brother) in the previous two movies. Miller is replaced by actor Justin Rupple (Zombie Whisperer and Battle for Incheon: Operation Chromite), who provides the voice of Tuffnut in this movie. As to why the change? Why didn’t Mille return? Who knows, but felt that Miller was the better voice for the character of Tuffnut. Rupple’s Tuffnut is okay, but doesn’t have enough comical appealing in his vocals. To me, it’s almost like Rupple is doing a impersonation of Miller’s voice (and that’s kind of odd).

The two characters that do get somewhat shortchanged in The Hidden World are the characters of Valka, Hiccup’s dragon rider mother, and Eret, a former dragon hunter / now fellow Berk-ian). Of course, the vocal talents of actress Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth and Ocean’s 8) and actor Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones and Gunpowder) continue to offer up quality performances within their respective characters of Valka and Eret, but their involvement in The Hidden World, despite being important players in HTTYD 2, is more diminished. Still, their continuity and participating (no matter how small it is in the film) is a welcomed one. As a side-note, it thought it was pretty cool that actor Gerard Butler (300 and Hunter Killer) returns in this movie by reprising his role of Hiccup’s father, Stoick the Vast, in a few flashback sequences.

With much of returning characters and voice talents returning for The Hidden World (both major and supporting players), the movie really only has one new character, which is the film’s main antagonist dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly and who is voiced by actor F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus and Finding Forrester). The character of Grimmel is a straight forward “bad guy” that’s easy to follow within his desires and motivations for his overall villainy of the feature, but his complexity and well-rounded of being a memorable villain feels lacking. He’s quite cunning and is equipped with plenty of guile and arrogance, but there’s not a whole lot to him beyond that, especially when examining the antagonist of the first two HTTYD bad guys (i.e. Stoic / Red Death from the first movie and Drago Bludvist / the alpha Bewilderbeast dragon from the second one). Still, Abraham’s vocals perfectly matches Grimmel’s arrogancy and silky smooth voice, which does balance the character out in the end.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The friendship of a lifetime reaches an epic conclusion in the animated feature How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Director Dean DeBlois latest project seeks to present the final adventure between Hiccup and Toothless and the various colorful characters that dwell within the Village of Berk, while also closing out the How to Train Your Dragon franchise. While there were some minor complaints to about the movie (mostly in being the weaker entry in the series), those positives definitely outweigh those negative criticisms; resulting in The Hidden World ending the franchise on a strong and deeply satisfying note, especially thanks to DeBlois’s direction for the film, a compelling core narrative, visually impressive technical presentation, and a solid (and charismatic) vocal talents across the board. Personally, I loved this movie. Like I said, I did have some minor complaints about this movie, but I felt that it was (as a whole) quite a satisfying and highly entertaining animated feature that deliver on being humorous, dramatic, endearing, stunning, and just downright majestically fun for an animated feature. Definitely a perfect way to end the franchise on. As you guys can imagine, my recommendation for this movie is a “highly recommended” one; finding The Hidden World to deliver on what was promise and just general viewable for all ages, especially those who have being invested with the How to Train Your Dragon series since it’s cinematic inception back 2010. It’s definitely a bittersweet moment, but DreamWorks’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a perfect example of how studios should end endeavor in creating an animated sequel feature, masterfully ending the tale of a boy and his dragon on deeply satisfying and emotional epic farewell adventure.

4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: February 22nd, 2019
Reviewed On: May 21st, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World  is 104 minutes long and is rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor

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