The third and final entry into the DreamWorks Animations’ How to Train Your Dragon franchise is a touching and satisfying finale that soars high alongside the previous films. Fans will be pleased to hear that the charm, heart and humour of the series is maintained as we are taken on one last adventure with now Chief of Berk Hiccup, Jay Baruchel, and his adolescent (still adorable) dragon Toothless.
After the bittersweet victory over the evil dragon trapper, Drago Bludvist, in How to Train Your Dragon 2, we rejoin Hiccup and his motley crew of Viking warriors, all suited up in dragon armour and ready to kick butt, in the middle of a stealth mission; their goal is to free and escort as many dragons as they can back to Berk. For under Hiccup’s leadership as the newly appointed Chief, Berk has been transformed into a dragon sanctuary, where Vikings and dragons coexist peacefully in a wobbly utopia. It isn’t long before we see however, that this living situation has a major issue. Berk is becoming overcrowded and simply cannot provide for all the dragons. Hiccup, under pressure to find a solution, seeks to find the mysterious and undiscovered Hidden World, in the hope that they can re-establish Berk there and restore the dragons to their home. But a threat arises in the form of legendary hunter Grimmel (F Murray Abraham) who seeks to track down Hiccup’s dragon companion Toothless, the last remaining Nightfury.
It is fair to say that the most appealing feature of the How to Train Your Dragon films has been the dynamic buddy relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. Together, they are tremendous fun and that’s no exception here. Whether it be the pair gloriously soaring through the air, fighting pirates or Toothless playing fetch with Hiccup’s prosthetic leg, it never becomes tiresome and we always want more. For the first time in the series, The Hidden World shakes up this dynamic with the introduction of a potential new friend for Toothless. This comes in the form of a Lightfury, the female counterpart to Toothless’ species of dragon. The Lightfury, pure white and with the power to turn invisible by flying through fire, is immediately sought after by Toothless, who becomes a love-crazed, horny teen in his efforts to befriend and woo her. His attempts, spurred on by Hiccup, lead to the funniest scene in the film, an awkward courting dance between the graceful and cautious Lightfury and the clueless and overeager Toothless. It’s a gem of a scene that highlights the fact that these characters are growing up. Toothless is a true teenager and Hiccup, a young adult, loaded with responsibilities and the realization that he can’t keep his friend around forever.
The Hidden World also gives smaller arcs to some members of the supporting cast. Whilst this is largely played for comedy beats, there are some more dramatic elements such as Snotlout’s (Jonah Hill) rivalry with Eret (Kit Harrington) and Tuffnut’s (Justin Temple) attempts to bond with Hiccup. Astrid (America Ferrera), too, is deservedly given a good screen presence. Astrid’s maturity and knowledge aids Hiccup when his confidence is knocked (which is often) and it is encouraging to see their relationship strengthen further. Whilst it’s nice to see these goofy characters get a bit more interaction with some of the main cast it does feel at a slight detriment to others. For example, characters like Valka (Cate Blanchet) are completely side-lined in this film, with seemingly little to do. Given the events of the previous film this feels odd as Valka and Hiccup should be closer than ever. Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) continue to be the bumbling comic reliefs. The villain Grimmel, doesn’t have the depth of Drago and doesn’t always feel as threatening. His larger scheme to capture Toothless manages to keep him one step ahead of the heroes, which makes the initial encounters he has with them feel like they were never meant to succeed anyway. Still, his design is well conceived and menacing enough for the younger audiences.
Despite some slightly slower, less gelled plotting, The Hidden World remains fun and visually resplendent. A mesmerising flight sequence with Hiccup and Astrid is so richly coloured and designed that it is breath-taking to watch as it fully realises the premise of the film’s title. The finale too delivers good aerial action and finds fresh challenges to throw at our protagonists and for one last time lets us soar through the air with dragons and Vikings. Ultimately though, this journey must come to its end. To see Hiccup and Toothless’ unlikely friendship over the past 8 years on screen has been the epicentre of this brilliantly animated franchise and to see it come to an end is both fulfilling and melancholy. Eyes will water and throats will choke up, but How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World has successfully given these characters the send-off they deserve.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is still screening at Vue York