Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The original How to Train Your Dragon movie released in 2010 introduced us to Hiccup, the runt of the Viking litter, who was nevertheless convinced that with invention and ingenuity, he could fight dragons just as effectively as his more burly brethren. After managing to shoot down a Night Fury, the most feared of all the dragons, Hiccup is convinced that it will be his key to the respect of the Viking community and perhaps even a way into the heart of the fiery Astrid. But when Hiccup finds himself face to face with the wounded and dejected dragon, he cannot bring himself to kill it. This leads him to the discovery that the dragons aren’t solely the fearsome enemies they believe them to be and he develops an incredible friendship with the creature he affectionately—and inaccurately—names Toothless.
Fast-forward two movies to How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and best buds Hiccup and Toothless are leading their fellow dragon riders on missions to rescue captured dragons from hunters. They bring these dragons back to their homestead of Berk where Vikings and dragons have found a way to live together in a mostly peaceful, but sometimes chaotic harmony. Unfortunately, all the dragons Hiccup and Toothless have been bringing back have created an incredible overpopulation problem. Hiccup believes that the answer to their problems may be a mythical utopia for dragons at the end of the world that his father told him stories about when he was a child.
The need for them to find a new home is accelerated by the arrival of Grimmel—the reason Toothless is the only Night Fury left, this legendary dragon hunter having killed all the rest. Grimmel’s talents are now being recruited by the group of dragon hunters that Hiccup and the gang have been stealing from, because they believe that once Toothless, the alpha, is out of the way, their recent difficulties in capturing the other dragons will fly away. And Grimmel has the perfect bait for Toothless: a love interest.
The How to Train Your Dragon series has always been a visual treat and The Hidden World is no exception. The film is lush and colorful, particularly once the story reaches the hidden utopia of the title. As our dragon friends soar through the subterranean wonderland, we in the audience are treated to a joyful journey through incredible production and character design. I have lost count of how many different breeds of dragons exist in this world, but the animators have managed to create an enormous cave full of wonderfully detailed creatures.
Beyond the always glorious soaring scenes, the movie also impresses with its exciting action sequences as Hiccup and company fight off Grimmel’s attacks. As you might expect, these actions scenes are often filled with fire effects. Fortunately, the animators have mastered their depiction of both water and fire, two crucial elements of a franchise that features fire-breathing dragons soaring across the oceans and around waterfall-laden islands.
Although the visual style and technical mastery of the How to Train Your Dragon movies has definitely been part of its appeal, it is the likeability of the characters and their relationships to each other that has led this franchise to be so beloved. Of course, the primary relationship in the film is between Hiccup and Toothless. From the first movie through to this third chapter, they have continued to develop their undying friendship. But like anyone of a certain age who was inseparable from their best friend growing up knows, there comes a time when life takes you in different directions. That is what The Hidden World is primarily about. Billed as the final chapter in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, this film is about its two best friends coming to grips with having to drift apart so that they can each start a family and rule their respective kingdoms.
The movie focuses on the central relationship between Hiccup and Toothless as it should, but unfortunately that means that it has little else for its talented voice cast to do. Returning characters like Hiccup’s mother Valka, voiced by Cate Blanchett, and Eret, voiced by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington, are underutilized. And F. Murray Abraham’s villain Grimmel lacks any real impact.
Those are minor complaints, though, in a movie that is otherwise entertaining and delightful. Of special note is the flirtation and romance between Toothless and the female “Light Fury.” Even though these are two characters who do not speak, we completely understand every step of their love story thanks to the terrific animation.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World has a definite Toy Story 3 feel to it. It packs a lot of heart amongst all the usual great comedy and action, leading towards a conclusion that feels like a satisfying end to the trilogy. Whether it really is the end remains to be seen. After all, this year we are getting a Toy Story 4 after the third movie became a monstrous, Oscar-nominated hit. The Hidden World may not have the legs to earn the Best Picture nomination at the Oscars next year, but monstrous hit is certainly possible and would be well deserved.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.
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