Director: Dean DeBlois
Screenplay: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, F. Murray Abraham
Runtime: 104 Minutes
The primary champion of DreamWorks Animation's strongest years was the surprisingly excellent How to Train Your Dragon, which spawned a series of which it’s third and final instalment, The Hidden World, looks to definitively close the book on the adventure of a boy and his dragon.
So, it’s unavoidably cheerless to state that this third film might be the weakest of the trilogy by a far margin. Although it still looks as visually spectacular as the others and has the same predominant focus on the character work of central figure Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his friendships with dragon Toothless and his extended Viking family, it feels saddled with a story that feels slightly underwhelming when given the build-up to this final culmination.
Said story concerns Hiccup discovering that Toothless isn't the only Night Fury upon the discovery of a female (a ‘Light Fury’), and he and his clan must seek "The Hidden World", a secret Dragon Utopia before a hired tyrant named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) finds it first.
While it makes sense as a form of narrative progression as to where this might all inevitably be heading, it feels like a soft retread of the second film’s plot wherein the dragons are under threat of being captured by the antagonist – who once again feels the diminishing returns of a series whose greatest antagonist was that of Gerard Butler’s Stoick the Vast back in the original.
It also moves at a pace that feels compacted and rushed for a film that took so long to produce, where the passing of hands and changes in production feels more apparent that this may have started as something much larger and more intricate before being cut down to a much simpler story under writer/director Dean DeBlois.
So many different elements are brought up such as Hiccup’s expected marriage to America Ferrera’s Astrid, and the fact that even the titular "The Hidden World" doesn’t actually feature a great deal beyond the admittedly gorgeous looking sequence of its reveal – and, even sadder, the final payoff while strong in the broad strokes feels a little short-changed by not allowing the characters to breathe and relate as strongly as before. If anything, it feels closer in composure to the television series that runs in tandem with the films.
But there’s also the sacrifice and condensing of supporting characters being wheeled out in their same forms without much change or maturity given the time that has passed. Some of which have character arcs only half-explored and wrapped up, some of which do very little like Eret (Kit Harington) and Hiccup’s mum Valka (Cate Blanchett) from the previous film.
It all feels a little inert in the in-between spaces of Hiccup coming to terms with accepting that he may one day have to let Toothless go, and coming to see himself as just as capable of leading his clan without Toothless there to help him. That’s the strongest thread that the film carries, backed up by some incredible facial animation and moments of calm reflection and humanity, and outside of that are the vistas, battle sequences and the utterly adorable evolving relationship between Toothless and his new mate as the animation and texture makes them feel like believable and living creations.
The Hidden World is a tad underwhelming when given the esteem generated by the preceding films, but not crushingly so. There are enough moments and vignettes to allow for some of that same sensation and emotionality, and call-backs and moments of growth that feel earned and pack a punch, it feels like it should have a stronger and more resonant effect than it ends up leaving behind.