Very loosely based on a popular series of twelve children’s books by English author Cressida Cowell (through marriage, her uncle is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer) How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the third and final installment of the animated trilogy that began in 2010.
Set in a mythical Viking world where humans and dragons co-exist, the 2010 original introduced its central character, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) as a gangly, misfit teenager with little interest in fulfilling the duties of a marauding Viking and doing whatever marauding Vikings do, principally hunting and killing dragons. Years later, by the introduction of this third adventure, he has now grown into a capable young man, brandishing a flaming sword and rescuing dragons from those who would do them harm. Plus, his village of Viking dragon killers has become a safe haven for the creatures, turning the villagers from hunters into protectors.
As the son of the village Viking chief, Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) part one was the essentially the adventures of a boy and his dragon, a Night Fury thought to be the last of its kind. Part two, released in 2014 and set five years later, introduced the boy’s long lost thought-to-be-dead mother, Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett) to the fold, though by finding a mom, young Hiccup lost a dad. His father died when bravely pushing his son away from the path of a lightning bolt and is killed instead. The twenty-year-old boy is made the village Viking chief.
This new adventure has Chieftain Hiccup leading his villagers and the dragons on a search for a faraway hideout called The Hidden World. A slimy villain called Grimmel (effectively voiced by F. Murray Abraham) intends to kill all the creatures, including any of Hiccup’s fellow villagers if they get in his way. With a huge army of murderous warriors in support, Grimmel is a force that can’t be ignored, so, with the powers vested in him, Hiccup announces at a meeting that everyone needs to pack up, head for the skies with their flying dragons, and search for The Hidden World, a place where all dragons would finally be safe. “Who died and made you chief?” asks one of the snarky teenage villagers.
For those who only know the motley crew of Viking characters and their dragons from the three movies, the differences from the novels can be startling. Toothless, the young hero’s hunting-dragon, is a Night Fury, an intelligent, powerful, dark-skinned creature that can carry human riders on its back. In the books, he’s small, green, extremely disobedient, and not particularly notable, often referred to as being exceptionally common.
Plus, unlike the Harry Potter series where author J.K. Rowling adamantly refused to allow any Americanisms to creep into the films and bring about changes, certain tweaks in the humor and the use of American accents for the teenagers (while the adults are Scotts) were created in order to make things more palatable for a stateside family audience, most notably in the character names. Gobber, the Viking character voiced by Craig Ferguson, is in the books Gobber the Belch, Jonah Hill’s Snotlout is Snotface Snotlout, and Valka, Hiccup’s mother, is streamlined down from Valhallarama. For the record, there was also a character in Cowell’s novels but not included in the films called Big-Boobied Bertha, a woman so named because of… well, you get the idea. Author Cowell has said that though the films differ considerably from her work, they have all remained true to the spirit and the message of the books.
When writer/director Dean DeBlois was asked to make the second feature, he agreed on the terms that if he wrote part two, there had to be a part three. His ideas for a complete story needed a trilogy, citing The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as his inspiration. That helps explain why Hiccup has a flaming sword; it’s the medieval equivalent of a lightsaber. Interestingly, the lightsaber fight of the original Star Wars was inspired by those Errol Flynn swashbucklers. With How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the weapon has come full circle, but with flames.
What’s immediately striking with the film is just how far animators have come with their work. The photo-realism of the scenery is simply remarkable. The leaves on the ground, the forests, the sand on the beaches, the oceans, the waterfalls, all create an animated world that looks practically tangible, continually daring you to go ahead and ask what is real and what you think is animated. It’s all animated. And the neon colored trek through the long passage that will ultimately lead to the discovery of that elusive hidden world of the film’s title possesses a visual beauty that gives even Avatar a run for its money. But it’s not just the locations. It’s also the characters.
While the faces and bodies of the humans are clearly the exaggerated features of a cartoon character, in part three there’s realism in their expressions and movements that should make Disney/Pixar sit up and take notice.
Presented widescreen with dazzling action (maybe a little too dazzling at times), hip, present-day humor in a medieval setting – “He’s out to lunch,” states a villager when Hiccup talks of a quest to find The Hidden World – and a bittersweet though touching epilogue that wraps things up, this third outing is unexpectedly ravishing. Here’s hoping that How To Train Your Dragon; The Hidden World (known globally as just part 3) really is the concluding story and that Dreamworks resists the urge of developing a part 4; doing so would only diminish the effectiveness of the film’s genuinely heartwarming final few minutes, and that would be a shame.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 104 Minutes