DIRECTED BY DEAN DeBLOIS/2019
How to Train Your Dragon has been a strong animated series for Dreamworks, and that story is coming to an end. While I’m sure Dreamworks will try to find ways to continue the series, that is based on the book series by Cressida Cowell, director Dean DeBlois made the brave decision to declare early on that this would be a trilogy, and then it would be over. To his credit, having a set end in mind has helped focus the narrative of this series, and as a result, the latest film, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, ends the series on a high note.
The film picks up following the events of the first two films. The island of Berk is swelling to its breaking point having acquired all of the dragons that Chief Hiccup’s (Jay Beruchel) mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) has brought with her. She had been watching over them for the past 20 years, but having reconnected with Hiccup and briefly with her estranged husband, Chief Stoick (Gerard Butler), who was tragically killed in How To Train Your Dragon 2, she has returned to Berk to help her son continue to look after the dragons. Having just defeated Drago, a vicious man seeking to raise a dragon army, Hiccup is happy to be living in peace.
As always, he still finds ways to grow restless, and avoid settling down with his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera). As Berk busts at the seams, Hiccup is thinking about an ancient seafarer’s tale his dad used to tell him about, of a place called the Hidden World. Legend has it that this is the place where dragons come from, and it sits on the edge of the world. Since Viking believed the world was flat, it was quite literally supposed to be at the edge of the world where the water of the sea drops off into nothing. Hiccup longs to find it and with it discover a place that will protect their huge dragon and human populations.
This is the best Dragon movie of the series, and the most heartfelt.
Now that Drago’s old associates have hired a skilled Dragon tracker and killer named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) to capture the dragons to complete their dragon army, Hiccup’s plan to discover this place is rapidly accelerated. When Grimmel uses a female Night Fury to bait Hiccup’s own Night Fury dragon and friend, Toothless, Hiccup finds that he might lose all he holds dear.
Dean DeBlois has mentioned in interviews how he was influenced by the film E.T., and longed to have an ending that captured the emotion and finality of that beloved film which was from director Steven Spielberg. While How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World has a darker plot, where the stakes are much higher than they were in the first two films, DeBlois is able to keep this third installment from being weighed down by the heaviness of the plot. Instead, there is lots of humor throughout, especially from Hiccup and Astrid’s supporting cast of unlikely dragon-riding Viking-gang with such personalities as Gobber (Craig Ferguson), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), Eret (Kit Harrington), and Snotlout (Jonah Hill).
While still appropriate for kids of all ages, The Hidden World grapples with some tough emotional themes such as questioning if one is willing to risk losing everything they love for the greater good, or because they value their loved one’s happiness above their own. This is approached from several angles and gives more depth to the larger narrative of Hiccup’s personal, and emotional, development as he transitions from being the son who didn’t quite fit into his Father’s tribe, to assuming that mantle of leadership from his Father yet still not knowing his ultimate purpose in life. Is he meant to simply settle into this role as chief and do what everyone expects of their chief by marrying Astrid? Is he called to something greater that lies beyond the realm of Berk? Can he pursue his destiny with only Toothless by his side? With only Astrid? Could he do it all if Toothless or Astrid wasn’t with him? All of these threads are in view, as well as the larger question of who we truly can be when we strip away all of the supports we have in our lives.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World stumbles slightly out of the gate, but once it finds its footing, it roars to a fully emotional, and satisfying finish. This is the best Dragon movie of the series, and the most heartfelt. Dreamworks will certainly want to mine this franchise for more money in the future, any way they can, but if they are smart, they will honor the lead of director and writer Dean DeBlois, who has guided this series from the beginning, and let it end on a high note.