“HOW to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is the final installation in the animated trilogy that presents the now famous Viking-inspired storyline where humans and dragons coexist. This film, written and directed by Dean DeBlois, follows a tradition set early on, where the previous films in the series came out and announced themselves of being of a very high standard.
“The Hidden World” follows in this same vein, with the movie highlighting the most noteworthy thing about the particular franchise in the way it turned out to be extremely well-designed, playing out exactly the way a computer-animated Viking saga is supposed to play out – flashing with vibrant colours, bursting with intricate artwork, and peopled by characters and beasts who are so majestic, outlandish, grand, evil, kind, and spectacular that they can only exist in myth, or onscreen.
Importantly, the films in the “How to Train Your Dragon” series always manage to appeal to the viewers’ emotions (both adults and kids), so much so that I do believe that this is the only trilogy that I can think of where the audience may actually cry during each one of the three films that make up the trilogy.
Our hero, Hiccup, has replaced his father as leader of the Viking people of Berk, following the events of the second film where his father, Stoick, passed away as his mother, the fierce dragon-protector, Valka, was found again. In the movie, Hiccup and his fiancée, Astrid, as well as his friends, Gobber, Snotlout, Fishlegs, Ruffnut, Tuffnut, and Eret come together to recognise that the dragons of Berk are not entirely protected because the massive horde of dragons that have accumulated in the area have made them more vulnerable because their location is so well-known to dragon-hunters. Hiccup establishes that the safest place for the dragons is the mythical and unknown location called The Hidden World, and he sets out on a quest with the rest of Berk to find this land where the dragons will be with their own kind, free and at peace.
A movie like this requires a terrible villain, and while one may immediately consider such a persona to be wild and fierce and deadly, it is quite through that the opposite can be equally terrifying. Grimmel the Grisly is the dragon hunter responsible for the decimation of the Night Fury population (of which Hiccup’s black dragon, Toothless, is one), and in his quest to hunt the breed to extinction, he sets off on his own journey to kill Toothless. Grimmel is a wily villain, and it is remarkable that his characterisation, with its cunning and sinewy kind of evil, with its smirking lips and oily personality traits, comes across so well in the film, which, I suppose, is a testament to how far we have come in terms of animation. He makes a worthwhile villain to a worthwhile hero in this film.
Another element that viewers need to watch out for when going to see this film is the astounding animation that is found in the film – it literally takes one’s breath away when because of how rich and lush and well-infused with colour the entire production is. The dragons themselves are one thing – some long and lean, others short and stout, some with two heads, some with more, some in silvery white, others in dazzling combinations of purple and gold and red and indigo – but it is the animation of the locales that is truly spellbinding, whether the dragons are playfully chasing each through storm-stained clouds, or whether the ships of Berk are speeding away from danger on the surface of the blue ocean, or whether it is in the Hidden World, where the dragons dwell in a massive space of glowing stones and whirling lights. Spectacle is not enough of a word to begin to describe what this film’s artwork is like.
The music of “The Hidden World,” by the fantastic John Powell, like the music of its predecessors is also of a high standard, invoking both the sublime and awe-inspiring beauty of the world in which the story exists. With certain types of tales, one can always expect a certain kind of music, and with this particular film, that definitely happens as the epic, orchestral kind of tone does come through.
However, Powell’s music manages to move beyond merely representing the genre of the epic and manages to integrate itself into the smaller, more emotional moments of the film, which makes those little moments become epic in themselves with the addition of the music, and that, somehow, manages to make all the difference in the film, especially when it comes to making the audience relate, on an emotional level, to what they are watching. In short, the music is responsible for the tears as much as the writing, the voice performances, the animation, or any other element of the film, if not more so.
The film is bolstered by strong acting performances, especially from Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, America Ferrera as Astrid, F. Murray Abraham as Grimmel, and Kristen Wiig as Ruffnut. However, the true star is undoubtedly the seamlessly drawn animation which gives life to the whole story, but also brings to the fore, the most important aspect of the film, which is Hiccup’s relationship with Toothless.
In “The Hidden World,” there is pain and heartache, such as in the wonderful battle in the climax where Grimmel captures Toothless in a high-stakes and dizzying display of artwork, but the film also presents moments of staggering beauty, such as the scenes where Toothless encounters and tries to impress the Light Fury.
The great thing is the way in which both the beautiful and the sorrowful are presented, in such splendor and wonder, that without a warning, quick as the flap of a dragon’s wing, either one can make the audience start to tear up in the theatre, and that, to me, is the mark of a good film.