This weekend saw the release of the third and ostensibly final entry in the How to Train Your Dragon film series, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. I loved the first movie and liked the second one, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting this film along with the series’ other fans around the world. Any time a movie series starts out this strong and gets this popular, it puts a lot of pressure on sequels to meet fans’ expectations. For a lot of people (myself included), How to Train Your Dragon 2 didn’t quite hit the mark. Honestly, a lot of animated sequels have been disappointing as of late. Let’s take a look and see how The Hidden World measures up to both of its predecessors.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World unexpectedly begins with an impressive set-piece involving the riders of Berk saving captured dragons. This segues cleverly into Hiccup’s usual opening monologue, this time welcoming the dragons to their new home. There’s just one problem, though: dragon hunting is on the rise, and the more dragons Hiccup amasses, the more conspicuous Berk becomes. A council of warlords responsible for the original kidnappings summons Grimmel, a legendary Nightfury hunter, to track Toothless and, therefore, the other dragons. It’s up to Hiccup and friends to protect the dragons, their people and their very way of life.
There’s a lot to love in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Some of my favorite sequences are flashbacks to Hiccup’s childhood with his father. The flashbacks in How to Train Your Dragon 2 felt rushed and shoehorned in to explain plot elements that didn’t get enough attention and exposition, but in The Hidden World, they connect to the film’s themes, as well as the current events. I was so pleased that they were able to include Stoick in this way, and even shots of his statue (which was shown as being in production at the end of How to Train Your Dragon 2) really make the presence of his spirit felt. While I still have my problems with the second film, The Hidden World more than makes up for the rushed plot and wasted villain. I’m glad to say that, while How to Train Your Dragon 2 would have benefited from being split in two, the third film is excellent as is.
John Powell returns to score The Hidden World, and I don’t know what else to say at this point; he’s created a unique and instantly recognizable sound for these movies, and it’s always pitch-perfect. Much like the second film, The Hidden World features lots of beautiful, exciting, and exhilarating new tracks, in addition to new renditions of the series’ main themes. I think this film’s musical score is actually on par with that of the original How to Train Your Dragon, and a little better than that of the first sequel. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is visually engrossing from start to finish. The characters get some gorgeous new armor, and this film has some of the most beautiful locations and cinematography out of the trilogy, and that’s saying something. The visual style of these movies has evolved right along with the technology that makes things like clothing and hair look more detailed and realistic. Honestly, this is one of the most beautiful animated movies I’ve ever seen, and it looks great on the big screen. The dialogue in The Hidden World is also very good, and I especially like the exchanges in the flashbacks. Valka and Astrid get some great lines here, Gobber is hilarious as usual, and Hiccup gets to come into his own in a whole new way. This is the funniest of the three films overall while maintaining the right momentum and dramatic tone when necessary.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is my favorite of the three in terms of theme. They introduce the idea that loss is just a part of love, and that in the end, it’s always worth it; then they draw a parallel in that this applies to several different kinds of love, and several relationships in particular. This was such a mature step for the series to take, and it feels like a natural progression. They also say that Berk is wherever the Vikings go, not this particular plot of land that’s threatened. This reminded me of a line in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, except here it’s done well and doesn’t just come out of nowhere. In the How to Train Your Dragon films, even when a new idea is introduced, it feels organic and like a logical evolution of what’s come before. Overall, The Hidden World is my second favorite film in the trilogy. It’s almost as good as the original How to Train Your Dragon, and significantly better than How to Train Your Dragon 2.
However, there is one aspect of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World that doesn’t work for me, and I wasn’t surprised at all by what it was: Grimmel. The Nightfury hunter is plenty intimidating, and F. Murray Abraham does a good job at voicing him, and I even like his character design. This might sound similar to what I said about Drago in the second movie, and that’s because he has the same problem and might as well be the same guy. We don’t know much about Grimmel, he’s not funny or all that entertaining, and even his demise is underwhelming. These films have never had very strong villains; in the first movie, the big threat (aside from prejudice and pigheadedness) is a huge dragon that commands the others. This is a pretty big flaw overall, and one that they haven’t overcome through the course of the sequels, but honestly, everything else is so good that it almost makes up for it. We’d be on a whole other level if they had great villains, but the heroes and the technical aspects are on point.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is truly a sight to behold, and I would strongly recommend seeing it in the cinema. You’ll laugh, cry, cheer, fall in love with Berk all over again, and I’d wager you’ll even find a few surprises. I hope that DreamWorks does decide to end the franchise here because I can’t think of a more fitting ending to such a beautiful story. The visuals and music are among the best I’ve seen in any film, and certainly the best in this series or anything by DreamWorks so far. If you liked the first two movies, I can’t imagine How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World not meeting your expectations. It’s a fitting end to a great movie series, perfectly rounds out the arcs for Toothless and Hiccup, and it’s just a damn fine piece of cinema. Thus far, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is my favorite film of 2019.