If the slightly grotesque yet charming dragons and the beautiful, tactile CGI-animation is what draws you to the How To Train Your Dragon series, then you will love How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.
Each successive movie in Dean DeBlois’ trilogy has multiplied the number and diversity of dragons. From menacing enemies in the first movie to now, in the third movie, the whole island of Berk has been converted to an idyllic refuge for dragons and Vikings. The look and design of the dragons are absolutely stunning, as are the environments; rich, vivid Nordic color schemes combine with very realistic dragon skin and other CGI elements for a movie where you can almost feel the dragon’s fiery breath.
Once again, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), leader of the Berk Vikings, and his trusty friend/dragon-steed Toothless are tasked with rescuing dragons and Vikings from peril. This time, one particular dragon hunter, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) has it in for Toothless, the last Night Fury, and begins to lure Toothless into a trap laid by introducing him to a female Bright Fury. This puts the entire village of Berk in danger, including the dragons, and everyone must find a path to the mythic “Hidden World” to survive Grimmel, his enslaved dragons, and his army of hunters.
All the ingredients are there for a rousing third chapter, but everything in How To Train Your Dragon 3 lacks the energy and urgency of the previous two. The best and funniest moments of the whole movie are low-key time spent in two separate dragon courtship sequences. In comparison to other recurring gags that mostly fall flat, Toothless and his antics in these moments and others are consistently funny. It delivers laughs, but it slows down a movie already moving at a canter, or whatever the dragon equivalent to a canter is.
Because of this energy, the residents of Berk come off as not very invested in whether Hiccup fails or succeeds. Sure, they put up a fight, but it’s one or two small moments; and no character, especially those close to Hiccup, express serious or acrimonious doubt. It lowers the stakes and would be great if Hiccup was leading an office branch of Viking Electric, not a village of Vikings and dragons fighting for their very existence from a villain bent on destroying them.
And yet, in spite of it, most of the charm of the movie comes from this easy-going spirit. Hiccup is dealing with more mature feelings and pressures than in the other two movies. Sure, spoiler alert, his father dies in the previous movie, but he is reaping what was sown as a result of him being thrust into leadership and taking over for Stoick. DeBlois devotes time to exploring Hiccup’s self-doubt about his leadership ability, as well as his effectiveness to deal with the threat of Grimmel without the help of Toothless. America Ferrera’s Astrid provides a strong voice of encouragement and loving companionship, providing an interesting throughline of having no interest in getting married despite the subtle pressure of the village and the not-so-subtle pressure of their friends. It’s an interesting character dynamic when you realize it makes Astrid multi-dimensional, but also informs their relationship as she wants Hiccup to lead and rely on his own abilities instead of relying on his companions, both her and Toothless, to weigh on his decisions.
Ultimately, The Hidden World is a worthy continuation of the How To Train Your Dragon series’ exploration of family and friendship. The first movie built a new community, the second movie is about maturing relationships and enduring through conflict and heartache, and the final movie is about the willingness to love by letting go and not holding on. It’s executed with less precision than the first and lower stakes than the second, but it still provides a heart-warming and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.