REVIEW: How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Just to let you all know, Toothless is a spitting image of my jet black staffy doggo named Ariel. In fact, I’m sure the filmmakers based the character off my dog.

Noble chieftain, Hiccup, continues to build a peaceful dragon utopia when his trusted pal, Toothless, falls for a wild and elusive ‘White’ Fury whom appears to share a connection to an infamously, blood-thirsty dragon hunter.

The final installment in the much loved How To Train Your Dragon film series has finally soared into cinemas and greeted fans of the series with a quality bookend to a genius animated trilogy. A rather unique little series of films that packs goofs and emotion into well-told character based stories, How To Train Your Dragon has seemingly found its final chapter in a delightful light-hearted adventure centred around mystic, wonder and pure friendship.

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(DreamWorks 2019)

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World may not be what I would call a perfect film but was indeed a heavily satisfying one. I may not the biggest fan of the How To Train Your Dragon film series, but I honestly felt wholly impacted by the culmination brought forward by The Hidden World. To clarify my self-proclaimed title of “not the biggest fan”, I do believe the How To Train Your Dragon movies to be great films – mastering concepts such as world-building, storytelling and analysis of themes, predominately the virtues of friendship – but I have never been entirely attached to the series. The first film may have been released during my childhood, but the second one wasn’t; what I’m trying to say is that I have no real nostalgic connection to the series. And I definitely do not think you need a nostalgic connection to the series to enjoy The Hidden World, or any of the other films, for that matter, since they all stand strongly on their own. I’m just saying that if you were to be one of those people who are completely transfixed in the How To Train Your Dragon films, straight off the bat, The Hidden World would probably be a perfect film to you… but for me, I had a few little nuggets I could not overlook. In saying that though, The Hidden World was a really, really, really, really, really, really, really good animated feature that opened itself up to enjoyment for people of all ages, packing laughs and a massive final gut-punch that confirmed the series as one of the greatest animated film trilogies of all time – nostalgic connection or not.

I remember reading in an interview before How To Train Your Dragon 2 was released that the series writer and director, Dean DeBlois, had cited My Neighbour Totoro as a large inspiration for the second film in the franchise. Despite believing very much so that said inspiration was evident in How To Train Your Dragon 2, I believe DeBlois had equally channelled the creative power of Hayao Miyazaki for The Hidden World. Although the entire series has embodied a sense of freedom through flight, it was in The Hidden World where I felt Miyazaki’s trademark style shun through the most. There was a certain sequence almost midway through The Hidden World which incorporated Toothless and his love interest gliding through the clouds, learning certain mannerisms from one other with nothing but sweetening music playing in the background – sequences like this reminded me of Miyazaki. Animated films nowadays revel in the loud and bombastic, believing entertainment to be purely in action but The Hidden World denied that. Miyazaki respected the quiet moments in his films – the minor seconds between characters for means of interaction. Miyazaki understood that it was in these very human moments where a scene could become universally transfixing and entertaining because it was so stripped down and real. And this certain alluring aerial sequence in The Hidden World – one between two fantastical creatures who could not speak or communicate in any human means – felt so powerful because it understood the true essence behind what makes a scene entertaining. What makes a scene – a moment – entertaining is a sense of humanity. It’s the same reason why sequences in Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle or Porco Rosso worked; all these movies, including The Hidden World, understood that, above all else, character makes a scene – character makes a film.

The How To Train Your Dragon trilogy, if anything, has been a powerful exercise in building character. The key element to storytelling is getting the character right or else what does the reader, viewer or audience have to connect to the story at hand? Without really good character work, you cannot have a really good story. The How To Train Your Dragon films have not only completely understood what great character is, but have also learnt how to effectively develop character through interaction. The human experience leans off interaction – we feed off connection to others because relationships make us healthy. The How To Train Your Dragon films have taken to exploring the strength and virtues of relationships through such fantastical means, thus delivering fascinating and relatable character. The films have also managed to develop their characters and their character’s relationships so effectively that when a viewer reaches a film like The Hidden World every interactive moment between characters like Hiccup and Toothless mean something extraordinary. The Hidden World executed emotional character arcs in such satisfying ways that at some points the Hiccup and Toothless friendship could have given the iconic Woody and Buzz duo a run for their money – and Woody and Buzz are a cowboy and a spaceman… how could you beat that combo?

The writing behind Hiccup and Toothless in The Hidden World was impeccable, especially in the case of Toothless. For the film’s central voiceless protagonist, the writers were able to say a lot through the character of Toothless without really saying a word. The character’s growth over the course of this film alone boggled my mind with excellent sequences to demonstrate his powerful move from A to B. I was so swept up in the characters of Hiccup and Toothless that by the film’s finale, I was gobsmacked. It was like I knew exactly what was going to happen, but the writing was so good that the finale still came as quite the shock. Moments of this film, especially towards the end, strangely reminded me of Spike Jonze’s Her (and not in the weird sexual ways). And the final scene in The Hidden World was incredible and a real gut-puncher.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World had some awesome animation at play. Usually I’m not a huge fan of CG animation outside of Pixar, but the look of this film was genuinely so sleek and gorgeous in appearance. Sequences in the skies to scenes in the snow – every conceivable frame of The Hidden World really popped for DreamWorks quality. The character designs and dragon appearances were all also very detailed and smartly rendered. I was hesitant in what the fabled “Hidden World” would look like as I believed purely off the name of the place, it sounded dull, but the dragon realm shown in this film was so damn beautiful, it was rather captivating. All in all, I had no problem in how The Hidden World looked – the animators gave this film their all.

I also would like to really applaud The Hidden World on its ability to continue world-building so effectively even as the third installment in the franchise. The fresh new ideas and concepts that surfaced in The Hidden World all continued to breathe life into this universe with the awesome introduction of the ‘Light’, ‘Bright’, ‘White’ Night Fury (or whatever) and, of course, the appearance of the titular Hidden World. Everything just seemed thought through and executed really well, in comparison to the earlier entries.

However, I would say the movie had some complications that I could not entirely oversee including difficulties with the villain, so plot holes and structural issues. To quickly breeze through these faults that I felt were evident in The Hidden World, firstly, I thought the villain was rather generic. Another dragon hunter with a cool visual design and an intimidating demeanour but ultimately nothing new to bring in terms of motivations or passion, the villain of The Hidden World (I’ve already forgotten his name) really dampened the film’s proceedings whenever the story would cut back to him. Also, I genuinely thought The Hidden World had problems with its plot like bits and pieces of the villain’s plan and a sequence involving Hiccup’s mother infiltrating the villain’s base of operations – there were just moments in this movie where I would sit and think “What? Why?”.

My last problem was probably the biggest I had with The Hidden World but also one that most people would overlook and I could understand why: structure. Now structure is not entirely something that may effect people’s enjoyment of a film but based off genuine flow, I feel structure is important to how a story operates. The final sequence of The Hidden World felt a little underwhelming because there was no real escalation – the final act seemingly just happened real suddenly as I would have to boil down that issue to structure. The Hidden World never really abided to a visible structure and basically just moved at its own pace. Though, the final action sequence just occurred out of the blue and felt real jarring compared to the mellow movement of the plot beforehand. It was like The Hidden World just unintentionally hit 100 real fast purely because the structural support to the narrative just wasn’t quite there.

All in all though, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was a brilliant finale to a brilliant three part cinematic tale. Like I said, if you’re a big enough fan, my minor issues could definitely be overlooked as the investing relationship between Hiccup and Toothless was strong enough to carry the entire film over its problems. The Hidden World was an important film due its pure dedication to teaching children, and even adults, the value of friendship, including trust and loyalty, but most importantly understanding what trials and tribulations a true friendship can withstand due to unwavering love. The How To Train Your Dragon films combined are something special, and although, by itself, its not the greatest film ever made, The Hidden World was, in a way, the perfect conclusion to a trilogy and friendship ever dedicated to 21st century cinema.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a bloody… CRUSADE!!

 

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