I’ve always felt that the biggest appeal of the “How To Train Your Dragon” franchise has been its breathtaking animation and visuals, perfectly capturing the awe of flying on the back of a dragon in all of its amazing and horrifying splendor. The quieter moments where those rides through the clouds are some of the best animation Dreamworks has ever done. Beyond that, the story is your basic “a boy and his dog” tale with fantasy elements. But the newest entry in the franchise, “The Hidden World” pulls a reversal of all this and makes the story interesting and the visuals take a backseat.
In the final installment of this trilogy, the Viking land of Berk has become a safe haven for all dragons. But the chief, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), fears that Berk may not be safe from the outside world for much longer, as a infamous dragon bounty hunter (F. Murray Abraham) sets his sights on Hiccup’s dragon, Toothless, since he was sure that he had killed all of his kind and plans to wipe out every Nightfury. Hiccup is second-guessed by nearly everyone in the tribe when he says that they need to find a new home, except by Astrid (America Ferrera), while they all push for the two to get married.
While the characters were never that strong or relatable in the previous movies, they finally start to grow on me in this movie, as they start to develop their own personalities outside of their Viking heritage. The side characters especially feel like fleshed-out individuals, with one trying and failing to always be the tough guy, another is obsessed with the study of all dragons, and the twins finally feel distinct aside from their constant bickering. Each of them gets an opportunity to shine and show that they’re no longer children.
In fact, that’s the biggest strength of “The Hidden World,” that we finally see these characters grow up and accept new roles in society, as well as the difficulties and challenges that come with that. Hiccup’s journey is more of learning his self-worth and how that’s very necessary for a chief and his people. Even Toothless has to learn to grow up and be self-reliant, which is all accomplished without him saying a word.
I also credit “The Hidden World” with the best villain in the franchise, mostly because of F. Murray Abraham’s calm and calculated voice making Grimmel the most intimidating and personal villain so far. He takes offense to everything Hiccup stands for and treats all of this like a chase, laughing the whole time at Hiccup’s wide-eyed innocence. He is a ton of fun to watch, especially the way he interacts with our heroes.
However, the visuals are less the stellar this time around. There are a few standout moments when Toothless chases around his girlfriend and when the Hidden World is finally discovered, but beyond this it is very basic by this point. There are very few quiet moments where the visuals alone tell the story, but I guess that’ll happen when you focus so much on making these children into adults.
This makes “The Hidden World” feel less epic than its predecessors and more personal and small. That doesn’t necessarily make it worse, just quite different from what you’d expect. If you like the characters in this series, then you’ll love what Dreamworks does with them. But if you’re here for the visuals, you might be a bit disappointed. Overall, “How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is a good movie, certainly worth your time.
Final Grade: B