Released: 3rd Janurary
Seen: 8th January
How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best animated films of the decade. I know, starting on a subtle statement is a great way to open one of these things but it’s accurate. Even with so many years between the original How to Train Your Dragon and the sequel we’ll be talking about today it’s impossible to understate how amazing the original film is. Not only is the original film a visual marvel but it has one of the most touching stories put in a kid’s film, a story about a kid trying to get the respect of his father who believes in killing every dragon while the kid wants to be kind to the creatures. It’s a touching tale even without the part that is just the adventures of a young boy and his dragon (a night fury named Toothless). The film was an instant hit that was absolutely beloved by everyone who saw it, and then the sequel came out and was even better. The story got darker, the animation was some of the most glorious to be put on the screens and it didn’t seem like it was possible to top it. Now, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World has come out and… OK it’s not better than the second movie, but its close.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World continues a little after the events of the second film (Though, for the record, you do not need to see any of the other films to follow what’s going on here. I highly suggest you see them anyway, but it’s not essential). Once again we’re following Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and the Vikings that live in the little village of Berk. Berk has become a place where Vikings and dragons live in peace together, a sanctuary of sorts which Hiccup is constantly filling when he goes off with some of his closest friends to save dragons from poachers. On one of these trips, two things happen. The first is that Toothless catches the eye of a known dragon hunter called Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) who makes it his mission to find and kill Toothless and, indeed, every night fury like him. The second thing that happens is that they come upon a white night fury (dubbed a Light Fury in the film), the only potential mate for Toothless who immediately becomes smitten with her. So from there we have our main plots, will the dragon hunter catch his prey and will the two night furies be able to fall in love and find real happiness, even if that happiness is somewhere away from the Vikings that have raised them.
While I am going to stand by my statement that this film isn’t as good as the second one in the series, I will joyfully exclaim just how much better the visuals have gotten. Even acknowledging that a 5 year gap between the last film and this one will inevitably lead to a leap in the quality of the technology used, this film has some of the most gorgeous shots in any of the three films in this franchise. Any sequence that takes place in “The Hidden World” is a glorious celebration of vibrant color and movement that is best seen on a big screen, your TV might be great but trust me those sequences require the grandiose size that comes with a cinema. The battle scenes are incredible, dramatic and easy to follow while building tension expertly and throwing in some great gags to break everything up. The voice cast for this film has always been incredible and they continue to be great here, making every joke work perfectly and every bit of drama sing. The best part of the film is easily any sequence between the two main dragons. No words happen in those scenes, a lot of the time it’s flying around and adorable courtship and it works wonderfully. It’s where the heart of the film can be found, it’s a change in the relationship that we’ve built up for the two previous films and creates this beautiful capper for the trilogy.
The big downside, at least for me, is that the villain in this one is basically Drago from the last movie. It’s the same villain, some mild alterations like the weapon and maybe the kind of dragon he uses but it’s still an imposing villain who specifically wants to kill Toothless. He’s a fine villain, I can enjoy him and I really like his voice actor (Look him up, his credits list is one of the most varied I’ve seen. The man went from Star Trek: Insurrection to Muppets from Space within a year, it’s a wild list to go through) but I’ve seen him before and it was more imposing last time. It was also a lot more essential last time since the second film dealt heavily with themes of loss and growing up and it was essential to have a really imposing villain that would shake things up. This film doesn’t feel like it needs one since the real heart of the film is the relationship between the two dragons. That’s where most of the time is spent and it feels like any time the villain turns up it’s denying us time with the beautiful dragons that, again, are the actual heart of this movie.
On the whole the movie is genuinely amazing, a worthy conclusion to this series. If this is how How to Train Your Dragons is going to end, it ends just as wonderfully as it began, which is not something you can say for many animated franchises. It’s a great film to take your kids to… right after you’ve taken them to Spider-Man, Mary Poppins, Bumblebee and Aquaman which I believe are all still out and you should probably see before this one, but this is still worth seeing.