How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World has fun, but the story which tries to cover too much ground for a final entry in a trilogy simply falls flat.
As I’ve gotten older, my desire to experience animated films has only grown. I like the stories they tell, the characters that they offer. There’s a sense of, freedom, of really expression in a blank computer screen.
There is an exception to that rule, and unfortunately, it is a sequel or a trilogy. The latest victim is DreamWorks’ third entry in their fantastically successful How to Train Your Dragon series, The Hidden World, now playing in theaters.
We’ve seen series of animated films where studios have waited too long in between entries for audiences to want to catch up. I saw the first one, and I admittedly fell in love with Toothless, the dragon and Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the future leader of Berk.
I never really let go of those characters either, but I did forget about their adventure, having missed the sequel, ironically titled How to Train Your Dragon 2. If it sounds like I am mocking the series, I really am not.
Oh, look! There was a television series too and it ran between 2012 and 2018.
Even though I love animation, and it sure is gorgeous in The Hidden World, looking nearly photo-real, I was awestruck at just how flat the characters had become. In fairness, I might have missed a beat or two over the past nine years. A lot has apparently happened.
But, you don’t need to have seen the television series or the second film to really pick up on what’s happening in this latest adventure. Some of the situations that are presented in “The Hidden World” might have made more sense, but the story’s framework, while serviceable, is something we’ve seen rehashed before.
What brings this film to life are the characters. I remembered Toothless and found Hiccup memorable. Dean DeBlois, who wrote and directed the second entry in this series is back and he brought a lot of heart to this film, especially in the courting aspects, which were represented exceptionally well through facial expressions and just a little bit of nudging.
F. Murray Abraham’s Grimmel is the villain in this story. The animators did an incredible job of capturing his the actor’s likeness and the seriousness at which is plots his nefarious ways was effective. It wasn’t until the third act, when the big extravaganza kicks in to full force that we really see him for the dangerous character that he is.
That’s really the challenge with the narrative arc. It certainly does complete Hiccup’s journey as well as Toothless’s. But for a “final entry,” even with as much heart, candor and romance in it, I don’t know that the story completely captures the essence of what’s driving it: the theme of letting go. It ties up loose ends, however the closure isn’t as clean as it could have been.
We so much want to be accepted for who we are. All of us. Hiccup does. Toothless does. Heck, even Grimmel does, but we don’t care about that because he’s just another token villain. Astrid (America Ferrera) is steadfast in her ways, and she is an exceptionally strong character as is Valka (Cate Blanchett.) Many of Hiccup’s friends and comrades are just as much fun.
The cast has a lot of fun in this story. It is light on its feet, and families will be drawn to it. John Powell’s light score is adventurous in spirit and fun in its emotions.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a fun, vivid film. The cast is strong, but the story wasn’t as effective a closure as it could have been. It will satisfy audiences and long-time fans of the series.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World has been rated PG by the MPAA.