Thursday, May 21, 2020

Third Time Pays for All

Film: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Format: Blu-ray from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I went into How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (hereafter shortened to just The Hidden World) cautiously hopeful. I love the first movie, and the second one, while not quite as good, holds up pretty well. But trilogies often fail in their third iteration and, despite all best efforts, end up concluding the series on a down note. I had hopes, though. After all, the Toy Story films remained consistently good, and even the unnecessary fourth movie was better than it had any right to be.

The truth is that The Hidden World is probably the weakest of the three Dragon films, but that’s not saying a great deal. While the story does feel like a step down in terms of quality, it’s not a big step down, and it’s coming from a very lofty place. It also benefits hugely from several very important realities of the series. First, we know from the first two films that this series is absolutely willing to have real, significant consequences for its characters. No one is every really safe or invulnerable. Second, it has Toothless, who is one of the truly great animated characters of the current century.

I mean that. The success of the series is due in no small part because of the appeal of Toothless as a character. While certainly capable of ferocity at times, Toothless tracks as a sort of perfect blend of dog and cat traits. Everything that people like about dogs is in Toothless, and everything they like about cats is a part of his makeup as well. While Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) might be the main character, don’t think for a second that Toothless isn’t the star or the reason people watch.

We start the movie with a raid. Hiccup and his friends are attacking a group of dragon trappers and freeing the captive animals, returning them to Berk, where the humans and dragons live in increasing disharmony. The problem is that there are too many dragons, and they’re running out of room. A more pressing problem appears when Hiccup and his sort-of betrothed Astrid (America Ferrera) discover that they have a new foe—Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), the man who killed all of the Night Furies except for Toothless…or so everyone thought.

It turns out the raid freed all of the dragons but one, and that one is going to be used as bait for Toothless. Essentially, she is a white version of him with the same powers and abilities. Dubbed a “Light Fury” by Astrid, the new dragon and Toothless become immediately enamored of each other, but she is skittish around Hiccup. And, unfortunately for the people and dragons of Berk, she’s being used to track them.

Hiccup makes the decision to move the dragons and the people out of Berk and hunt for a legendary place called the Hidden World where the dragons are alleged to come from. This will keep them safe and the people of Berk safe from the trappers and from Grimmel, who continues to attack the people of Berk.

That’s more than enough plot. In fact, The Hidden World is actually a bit short on plot in a traditional sense. Grimmel is a threat, but doesn’t become a very serious threat until the very end of the film. A great deal of the film’s running time deals not with finding the Hidden World, but with Toothless and his courting of the Light Fury and with this being in some ways mirrored by the relationship between Hiccup and Astrid, who are clearly more or less a couple but who also resist the idea of being married.

It’s interesting that as trilogies often tend to get bigger and more bombastic as the series comes to a close, this one in many ways gets quieter and more personal. Sure, there’s a big to-do at the end and a massive battle sequence, but vastly more of the film is spent dealing with character development. Through all of this, the big challenge for Hiccup as a character is that he still doesn’t truly believe that much in himself, which leads to some very nice moments between him and Astrid.

Honestly, I didn’t expect this to match up to the previous films, especially the first one, which is a masterpiece in many ways. But it’s still very good. Better, it concludes the series about as well as it could be concluded. There is a real sense of closure here, one that I sincerely hope means that there will not be another movie the series. It really doesn’t need one. The story it wanted to tell is done, concluded beautifully.

That’s rare, and it’s a wonderful thing when it happens. While a small step down, this is how this should have ended—caring about its characters more than about spectacle. That said, it’s a hell of a pretty film. These have always been attractive films, and this one is no different.

If you’ve seen and loved the first two films, you’ve probably already seen this one. If you haven’t seen any of them, track them down. You’ll absolutely be rewarded with a series you’ll be very pleased that you’ve seen.

Why to watch How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World: Ends the series exactly as it should end.
Why not to watch: Like many a final movie in a trilogy, it’s the weakest link of the three.


  1. The human villains in this trilogy, a bit like in Marvel movies, haven't been as well developed as they could've been, but I thought F. Murray Abraham made the most of the role he'd been given. Overall, it is indeed one of the better trilogies out there. It sticks the landing.

    1. True. Abraham's villain is the most developed, but even he isn't much developed beyond "I like to kill dragons."

      Still, this is much more about the relationships than it is about the bombastic action sequences.

  2. You need to watch the short film/TV episode, "How to Train Your Dragon: Homecoming," to see how the films and all the TV series come to an end. I won't spoil it for you. I just can't believe that both DreamWorks and NBC had to conclude such a great ride with a Christmas/holiday themed television special to tie it all together.