How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the Perfect Ending to a Trilogy

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On Saturday, February 2nd, I walked into a packed theater at 3PM with families all excitedly waiting for the advanced screening of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. I haven’t seen a theater that full since Infinity Wars, and perhaps it’s because every parent is happily bringing their kid to a beautifully animated, heart-warming film that acts as a brilliant capstone to the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. Regardless of the case, the thunderous applause as the credits rolled brought a smile to my face as I teared up at the ending.

The Hidden World picks up relatively soon after the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2, with Hiccup (voiced by the endearingly awkward Jay Paruchel) and Toothless leading a crusade to rescue captured dragons and take them to the new utopia of Berk. Hiccup is aided primarily by Astrid (America Ferrera), the actual best Viking of their generation, and Valka (Cate Blanchett), his mother and experienced Dragon Sanctuary keeper. Rounding out his support network are Gobber, Snotlout, Fishlegs, Tuffnut, Ruffnut, and Eret who mostly serve as a comic relief to Astrid and Valka’s actual guidance.

However, Berk’s mutually beneficial relationships with the dragon population is considered a threat by other seafaring civilizations so much so that they form an alliance to bring in the biggest, baddest dragon hunter in all of the land: Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham). In stark contrast to previous villain, Drago, Grimmel is a Knight’s Templar type. Rather than wanting to use dragons for wonton destruction, Grimmel views dragons as a threat to humanity and believes that eradication to extinction is the only way for humanity to thrive. It’s a great evolution of divergent philosophy and a nice nod to the original theme of the first movie. Of course, Grimmel isn’t above using dragons in his crusade.

When Hiccup and Grimmel’s path converge due to existence of a Light Fury, the female counterpart to the Night Fury, it leads to Hiccup taking the people of Berk on an odyssey to find the Hidden World, the original homeland of the dragons. Hiccup continues to learn what it takes to lead his people to a new Golden Age, as Toothless falls in love with the Light Fury and has his own journey in discovering what it means to be the alpha dragon. What unfolds is a touching tale of legacy, responsibility, and coming of age that acts as a love letter to an imaginative world that DreamWorks Animation brought to us nine years ago as Hiccup’s and Toothless’ journeys come to a fitting conclusion.

Director and writer, Dean DeBlois brought out of the best of the creative teams. The acting remains emotional and poignant, with the actors proving their mastery of their characters through both comedic beats and dramatic monologues. The opening and ending sequences delivered by Baruchel in particular mythologize the series and the very idea of dragons throughout cultures in a captivating manner. Yet, the true appeal of the film lies within its audiovisual experience.

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How to Train Your Dragon constantly sparks the imagination of the viewer with its perfectly rendered animation and epic orchestral score. The level of detail and care put into every inch of screen is breathtaking. You can make out individual textures on scales, individual strands of hair, the tiniest branches of forked electricity. Each dragon has its own personality in the way it flies and moves throughout the photo-realistic environment. The flight sequences are some of the most stunning moments in cinematic history. You see clouds furl and unfurl as dragon wings beat through them, and the water resembles the same ebb and flow you could see out of the window during a flight. The dragons move like they have real weight to them. The humans stumble like actual warriors with every swing of their armament. It is a visual spectacle in every sense of the word. It’s eye candy, that’s what it is. The same magic that worked in 2010 has been refined, and the end result is one of the prettiest movies you’ll probably see in 2019. It is worth the price of entry alone.

Furthermore, the music and sound mixing is incredible. It is the type of sound design that effortlessly blends into the scene and makes your hearts and eyes swell without you actively noticing it unless you’re actively listening for chords, in which case you’re greeted with a mesmerizing score. It is exactly what you want from such a dynamic viewing experience as their cues to pick up on every rewatch.

What few gripes I have with the movie are minor and rooted deep within spoiler territory. They are heavily outweighed by the sheer joy I got from watching the movie. And in fact it’s  my least favorite movie because it is the end. The How to Train Your Dragon world has been incredibly colorful and realized. We have a sense of how Berkian culture has evolved, the ecosystems of dragons, and the larger scope of battling civilizations. I would have loved to see even more. But by that same virtue, we were given a satisfying conclusion to the joint journeys of Hiccup and Toothless. The two metaphorically (and in one case, literally) “glowed up,” and their tale deserves a definite end. The Hidden World provides an excellent one.

In 2019, it becomes more and more apparent that “animation” isn’t just for kids. It is a medium that can be used to convey complex, emotional narratives that wouldn’t have the same effect with CGI and live action actors. There is some magic that can only be achieved when you have a dedicated team of artists handcrafting a world from scratch. But beyond that, How to Train Your Dragon isn’t just going down in the history books as one of the best animated trilogies; it’s going to go down in history books as one of the best trilogies straight up. You owe it to yourself, your family members, and your friends to see this film in theaters. It takes the foundation set up in its prequel and builds on them to their natural and perfected end. It is an experience that offers unparalleled joy and it comes out everywhere February 22nd.

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  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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