DreamWorks has had their fun with anti-social ogres and high-kicking pandas, but like the lead creature this franchise has spent three films focusing on, How To Train Your Dragon has been the hard-skinned beauty of a beast that has reached higher levels of praise than all of them. So many animated films have told stories about learning to grow up and the trials and tests that can come with it, but we’ve actually seen it happen before our eyes here, as this franchise fleshed out the characters with exceptional detail and development to make the hero’s journey one worth staying on. Of course, all flights have to end, and in the case of Hiccup and Toothless, this is one great way to disembark.
Already taking a step where few animated franchises dare to tread, The Hidden World continues to see this universe age and adapt, as a year on from the events of the second film, Hiccup and his dragon-riding band of heroes are having trouble on the island of Berk, after almost reaching capacity on the Viking and scale-bound brethren entry list. Battling with his duties as chief to his people, while also ensuring that every dragon he encounters is a free one, he faces a new threat in the form of a vicious dragon-hunter who specialises in putting Night Fury’s to bed. This, of course, spells imminent danger for our hero and his one-of-a-kind fire-spewing sidekick, who isn’t one-of-a-kind after all.
As with the previous two chapters, the first striking element in how this story is how it looks and the sheer beauty of it all. Opening with a dragon rescue mission, every detail is applied to make sure this world we’ve spent so much time in feels like a real one. Plumes of smoke and cloud swirl around our heroes as Hiccup’s face sways in the heat of that fancy flaming sword he’s constructed, and his slo-mo hero walk alongside Toothless through a wall of fire is good enough to be hung on a wall. In addition to this, the flight sequences are just as breathtaking, as dragons swoop, soar and dive bomb with flair, making it the most beautiful franchises to come from the studio.
Besides every frame brimming with mesmerizing animation, they all come together to form another strong chapter to the series. While the earlier films have been just as much about Toothless as the young Viking that adopts him, The Hidden World seems to lean more towards the dragon than his rider which bravely takes things into new territory (fitting giving its subtitle). Hiccup’s goal this time is to find a new home for all dragon’s and in doing so, sets Toothless off to find a mate and discovers where she comes from, as a result.
This is where The Hidden World burns brighter than the rest, spending times with dragons and with barely a human in sight, gives more time for Toothless to take over and it’s a joy to watch. Seeing the alpha attempt to win the heart of the equally impressive looking Light Fury is easily the highlight of the film. Accompanied with as little as John Powell’s perfect score, his attempts to woo his potential mate is a delightful dialogue-free encounter that sparks two kindred spirits taking to the skies in a stunning display that feels reminiscent of when Wall-E first met Eve.
As seamless as this closing chapter may seem though, there are times when the story does hit a little turbulence. The dangers and dilemmas Hiccup and Toothless encounter don’t feel as threatening as the second instalment, with Djimon Hounsou’s bellowing Drago Bludvist towering over F. Murray Abraham’s diluted Grimmel the Grisly, who certainly doesn’t earn his title. And even though we’ve had two films to see the friendship blossom between our hero and his beastly buddy, it doesn’t get a lot of time to be tested here, making the final emotional act hit, but not as hard as it could. Nevertheless, if here endeth the lesson, it’s one worth savouring, rounding off what is what has become and will remain one of the most near-perfect film franchises ever.