The How to Train Your Dragon series has been a beacon of light for Dreamworks Animation and has become one of my all-time favorite animated series’. In the early 2000s, Dreamworks Animation started the millennium my introducing us to Shrek, an enjoyable and creative animation that showed what Dreamworks was capable of with the right idea. I believe the 2004 sequel even improved on its predecessor, both in-terms of quality and definitely in-terms of box-office reception, grossing nearly a billion dollars. Unfortunately, the decade thereafter wasn’t as kind to the Shrek franchise, dulling the shine from Dreamworks’ most consistent money-maker. Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After damaged the brand and the ogre has seemed reclused to his swamp since then, which might be for the best. Fortunately, the How to Train Your Dragon series has really taken the torch from Shrek in this decade, showing Dreamsworks operating at all cylinders. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World marks the third and (allegedly) final installment in the near decade old series, and while I had no doubt that I would enjoy it on some level, I was a little leery on whether it would be able to provide a send-off as strong as its predecessors. Here are my thoughts …
Written and directed by Dean Deblois, the final installment in the Trilogy brings back the original cast of characters, including Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Craig Fergus, and Kristen Wig, while introducing new characters like our antagonist, played by F. Murray Abraham. In a summarization of the essentials, How to Train Your Dragon 3 follows a year after the previous installment and focuses on Berk being challenged by their strongest opposition yet, one that wishes to capture and slay their dragons. This leaves Hiccup with no other choice than to search for a land called “The Hidden World,” yearning to find somewhere for the civilization of Berk to live in peace with their dragons. As well as this, Hiccup and Toothless discover a female Light Fury who Toothless swiftly establishes a bond with. A black cloud looms over much of the film, threatening to rain down the series’ end, which this film suggests is an inevitability.
Something I thought pertinent to say about this film and its relationship with other animated series’, is that it doesn’t feel like a rehash. Dean Deblois has stuck true to his intent at the series being comprised of three films and each one actively builds on the other in a way that feels organic and ambitious. Whereas other animated sequels can feel workman-like or, perhaps, like they’re forced to bend old ideas to make them resemble something unique, it feels real and necessary that How to Train your Dragon carried on to its third film. For instance, although I very much enjoyed The Lego Movie and I also enjoyed The Lego Movie 2, my night out at the theater always saw How to Train Your Dragon 3 as the main-course and Lego Movie 2 as the appetizer. Although that series is fun and energetic, “How To” simply hits harder and higher, accomplishing that little something special that only happens once in a great while. That “Harry Potter” or “Toy Story” sentiment where I’ve spent so long with these characters and it has elevated itself to an “epic-scale,” an “event film,” if you will.
“The Hidden World” turns on all cylinders, benefiting and fully capitalizing on the goodwill established by its predecessors. The visuals are the best they’ve ever been (an especially impressive feat when you consider how the production budget is more than thirty-million less than where we started) and the production-value on display with its attention to detail on lighting and music is slick and at a high-standard.
One thing I was trepidatious about was the inclusion of the Light Fury, which suggested a romantic subplot for Toothless. I wasn’t bothered by it for some of the reasons I’ve seen thrown around, which seem like they’re fishing for controversy where there isn’t. I was afraid that it would be a very conventional and simplified story-line about Toothless finding a female Light Fury and that it would be inconsequential. Suffice to say, I was fearful it was meant only as a way for Toothless to have something to do. However, what I found instead was the film deciding to use this sub-plot as a way to further develop the dynamic between Hiccup and Toothless, their relationship, and the overall tone of the film.
The story is aware of the journey its audience has taken with it and makes certain to deliver an emotional epic pay-off, carrying a grandiose spectacle at times that walks the fine-line of never forgetting the smallness and sincerity between the relationships it has cultivated. I’m always skeptical about “final” chapters and series cappers. At the end of the day, Dreamworks is a business and, artistic integrity be damned, they will decide whether it’s really the end. The same way Pixar decided to do Toy Story 4, regardless of the third film’s finality. However, as it stands, I really respect the film’s end and hope they hold true to it. I wouldn’t be against spin-offs or new characters, but I would love if they let the cards fall where they land on the current story-arc. If they did, How To Train Your Dragon would be able to do what Dreamworks didn’t let Shrek do as a series, and that is, to say goodbye and mean it, forever after.
Although the film is certainly amongst the high-ranking animations (its predecessors included) that transcend the conventions of what mainstream animation is, carrying substantial stakes and dramatics, while also combining humor and sentiment in a way that makes it an enjoyable experience for moviegoers of all age-groups. (even if I found the humor with the siblings more hit than miss)
How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World officials caps off the Trilogy on the high-note, amounting to what I always want from animation, but so rarely get. The film doesn’t coast off cheap gags and instead, respects its audience with a thrilling conclusion to a fantastic series of films. The film is brimming with production-value, some of the best animation on the market, and top-of-the-line voice-acting, especially from the main-cast. It’s a great film and I highly recommend it.