I admittedly slept on the How to Train Your Dragon films. I’m aware they were critically and financially well-received and are clearly popular enough to finance a trilogy. Well, over the last week, I have watched all three How to Train Your Dragon films, and I can conclude that this is one of the most beautifully crafted trilogy of animated films in recent memory. It falls on the same level as the Toy Story movies, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a crowd-pleasing and expectation-defying sendoff that will make children smile and adults sob.
After being ruled chief of his homeland Berk, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has created a hectic and utopian homeland for many dragons alongside Astrid (America Ferrera) and his beloved ultra-rare Night Fury dragon and best friend in the whole world, Toothless. Once a new threat looms, they must leave their home and travel to a new world thought only to exist in myth. Along the way, new paths are forged for both dragon and rider and the climactic feeling of a beloved series coming to an end begins to set in.
This series has largely taken the Pixar ‘make ‘em cry’ model and ran with it, and that’s hardly a bad thing. These are family movies with plenty to enjoy for both adults and children. This one is as funny as the others, but these movies are constructed with such an earnest sense of sentimentality that the jokes never feel forced, and the rapport with the characters feels genuine. The Hidden World never assumes that you have a lot emotionally invested when you walk in the door because once the film sets into motion, you realize how much there is to care about.
Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera continue to deliver perfectly executed voice performances. It’s also nice to see Cate Blanchett and Gerard Butler return as Hiccup’s parents, although a subplot involving Blanchett feels a bit off. Kristen Wiig’s character has one of the film’s funniest moments, and Game of Thrones star Kit Harington is also quite good. F. Murray Abraham also voices a memorable and very threatening villain.
Writer/director Dean DeBlois returns for the third entry, and it’s clear these films have been passion projects from the very beginning. These films have an energetic sincerity about them that’s infectiously charming. It does kind of get caught up in the nonsense of its own narrative in various parts of the villain/hero dynamic because these films are best when they’re the most simple. When it’s about the underdog and the dragon he calls his friend, that’s when these movies really shine. And the dragon gets a girlfriend in this one! Cue unbearable cuteness!
Regardless of a few minor narrative stumbles, it’s clear these are movies made with love, and this final chapter is no exception. I would not say it’s perfect, there are a few things that ultimately feel like missed opportunities. I would have liked to have seen more of the Hidden World, and the audience only really goes there once the whole film, and also that it’s in the title.
In conclusion, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a lovely and fitting end to one of the most artistically successful animated film trilogies of this generation. The laughs are genuine and never cheap, and the tears at the end are earned. The very definition of a crowd-pleaser, it is certainly worth seeing in the theater with a huge screen and a great sound system, but it’s also worth purchasing the inevitable Blu-ray bundle of all three films.