Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic
If you had told me at the beginning of the decade that an animated film would spawn a trilogy that nailed all three movies that came out this decade, I would probably have been very curious to see what Pixar had planned. While Pixar has never worked at that pace on their sequels, DreamWorks Animation has had a few very successful franchises that they have kept going. Arguably, the best in overall quality has been the two How To Train Your Dragon movies, and How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a satisfying cap on the trilogy.
The Viking village of Berk has turned into a human and dragon utopia, with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) the chief of the village and Toothless the alpha of the dragons. Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) have been leading raids on dragon trappers to free the dragons and bring them to Berk. However, their actions has caused the dragon trappers to hire a dragon hunter named Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) to capture Toothless and, in turn, all the other dragons in Berk. Afraid they can’t stop Grimmel, Hiccup leads the residents of Berk in search of the Hidden World, a place his father said existed on the edge of the world that dragons came from and where the people of Berk can live in peace with their dragons. Hiccup’s plans are complicated by Grimmel unleashing a female “light fury” as a distraction for Toothless.
It is a fairly common practice that the original director of a successful animated feature often hands the reins off to someone else for the sequels and serves as a producer instead. This trilogy has had the benefit of having the same person at the helm writing and directing all three films, Dean DeBlois. That lends a certain cohesiveness to all three films that is a definite benefit. The humor is consistent throughout, as are the relationships between characters, both human and dragon.
The film shares some thematic similarities with Ralph Breaks the Internet in regards to friendships needing to change and being ok with letting someone go when it is for their ultimate benefit, though it approaches this is a very different way and is never a real obstacle to be overcome like it is between Ralph and Vanellope. Also, the idea of looking to find a safe place away from persecution where you can live as yourself is a pretty relatable idea, whether it be in relation to religious freedom or LGBTQ people.
While there are some easily digestible themes, the story is fairly straightforward and the lightest of the three movies. The villain, Grimmel, is always a step ahead until the very end when he suddenly isn’t. Given that it is a movie geared toward kids, this isn’t that surprising. He is an effective enough of a villain, but he’s not especially menacing or anything.
Visually, the film is vibrant and ambitious. They attempt some things here with scale that are pretty impressive, especially in once scene where a massive waterfall is discovered. The vast array of different dragons shows off the creativity of the makers of this film. The opening of the film where Hiccup and company swoop in under cover of night to free a handful of dragons is pretty great and the action of the final act is also good stuff.
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the conclusion of a fantastic animated trilogy. Oddly enough, it can now be argued that it is one of the best trilogies made because of the high quality of all three movies. In fact, the best trilogy of the decade discussion would likely come down to this and the Planet of the Apes trilogy. Given that the film will make a lot of money for DreamWorks, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a fourth one eventually, but they’ve made a pretty good ending spot that ties everything up nicely and is an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars