By: BabyRuth (Two Beers) –
Whew boy, did I have to mentally prepare for this one! Having been so invested in the world and beloved characters of the Dragon films for the past decade, I was excited to see the next chapter, but knowing it was the final* one (*hopefully they won’t pull a Toy Story), I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet.
How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World picks up one year after the events of 2014’s How to Train Your Dragon 2. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is chief and the Vikings and dragons—with Toothless as Alpha— are living together peacefully on Berk. Not much has changed, except, well, Berk is starting to look like Marie Kondo’s worst nightmare, as the dragon to human ratio has become quite lopsided and there’s little habitable room left on the island. Hiccup and his friends have made it their goal to rescue and provide sanctuary to as many dragons as possible, often going on dangerous missions (as we see in a thrilling opening sequence). Their hearts are in the right place, but if they are to continue saving all the imprisoned dragons from garbage humans they’re going to need more land.
Hiccup remembers his late father Stoick (Gerard Butler returning to voice the character in flashbacks) telling him of the titular hidden world: a haven for dragons buried beneath a waterfall, inaccessible by man. The relocation plan becomes even more imminently urgent when the tribe learns that the notorious dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) has learned of Toothless’ existence and is set on slaying the last remaining Night Fury. And oh yeah, all other dragons too. Cunning and always one step ahead, Grimmel is unlike any threat they’ve ever faced before.
Grimmel has a secret weapon to lure Toothless away from the safety of his home: a female Night Fury, or rather Light Fury. It works and Toothless is smitten.
While Toothless works on his game (to adorable lengths) trying to impress his new crush, longtime couple Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) find themselves at a relationship crossroads with what seems like everyone pushing the pair to marry.
It becomes quite clear that the Berk we have all come to know and love will be forever changed, one way or another.
Do I need to mention that the animation is incredible, ground-breaking, insane, and immersive?
Do I really need to point that out?
Because by now, it’s a given. Still, somehow, the animators manage to top themselves once again. The landscapes are beyond lush and everything looks so incredibly real, it’s hard to believe it’s animated. The water, the sand, the clouds… it’s breathtaking. And that’s before we even get to experience the “hidden world,” which one-ups Avatar’s Pandora. I only saw it in 2D on a standard size screen and can’t even imagine how amazing this film must be in IMAX 3D. (I plan to find out very soon by seeing it again in that format.)
As always, the animation of the characters is just as impressive and detailed as the surroundings. Every hair moves, each expression is natural, and Toothless is as delightful as ever, especially during the non-verbal scenes of a courting ritual with the Light Fury.
Although the visuals are a huge part of what makes these films so unforgettable, what really has captured the hearts of their audience and set them apart from the standard animated entertain the kids for two hours and slip in a few jokes for the adults movies has been the endearing characters and heartfelt storytelling.
The Dragon franchise has never been afraid to tackle more mature and somber subject matter, taking chances not often seen in these type of films. The final installment continues that practice. Loss has always been one of the trilogy’s (please let this be a trilogy!) main themes, especially in the second film. It’s explored here once again. Many fans have grown up right along with Hiccup, Toothless, and their friends, and are now entering adulthood themselves. Like the characters, they must accept the changes that come along with it, including moving on and letting go.
Hiccup and Toothless, the once inseparable pair who have always depended on one another, are now becoming more independent and entering the next chapter of their lives. It’s heartbreaking but inevitable and builds to a conclusion the viewer knows is coming but that still feels like a punch in the gut.
And even if you make it to the end without sobbing, just wait until the epilogue. It’s beautiful and perfect and it absolutely wrecked me to the point where I am truly tearing up and getting a massive lump in my throat as I type this just thinking back at the scene.
Excuse me for just a moment…
In a great film series, and I’m certainly counting the Dragon saga as one, there isn’t much of a drop-off in subsequent entries. Still, when we get into multiple films in a franchise, at least one will fall a little short of the others. In this case, The Hidden World is How to Train Your Dragon’s instance of that (Damn those first two films for being so near-perfect!).
The plot feels a little too familiar. The villain Grimmel is nearly a carbon-copy of 2’s Drago, a fearsome and relentless bad guy who threatens the peace-loving Berkians and has the singular goal of killing Toothless, because… well? He’s bad. His threat is more of the catalyst to Hiccup and Toothless’s parallel journeys rather than the main conflict of the film, which is fine, but the stakes just don’t feel as high this time around.
And while the main characters: Hiccup, Astrid, and even Toothless have shown significant growth and complete carefully planned out story arcs over the course of the trilogy, the side characters seem to have regressed into bumbling idiots. Specifically Kristen Wiig’s Ruffnut (this really isn’t the best setting to showcase her ad lib talents) and Justin Rupple’s Tuffnut (replacing a cancelled T.J. Miller), who has an ongoing gag of mentioning his manly beard (two long braids tied together at his chin) that gets less funny every time it comes up. Then there’s a bizarre subplot involving Snotlout (Jonah Hill) repeatedly hitting on Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett). Every time any of them appear the tone shifts and everything comes to a screeching halt. And none of these characters ever seem to react appropriately when faced with danger, instead dropping wisecracks. (Maybe that’s why Grimmel doesn’t seem so scary?)
It almost feels as if director/writer Dean DeBlois was trying to backpedal a bit from the darkness of the second film by amping up the comic relief in this one. The problem with that is that the humor more than not lands with a thud. It feels out of place in contrast to the moving storytelling involving the main characters, almost like a completely different film is spliced in.
Though it has a few faults, the conclusion to the story of Hiccup and Toothless is a visual feast that packs an emotional punch and is not to be missed. I hate to say goodbye to these characters (though I’m not too broken up about a few of the side ones), but if we have to, this is a pretty darn perfect send-off. I’ll just be over in the corner sobbing.
How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Hiccup calls Toothless “bud”
Take a Drink: whenever Snotlout hits on Hiccup’s mom
Take a Drink: every time anyone brings up marriage to Hiccup and Astrid
Do a Shot: whenever Tuffnut mentions his “beard” (unfortunately, drinking doesn’t make it any funnier)
Do a Shot: after the epilogue- you will need it!
Raise a Final Toast: to one of the best trilogies, animated or not, of all time