I love the How to Train Your Dragon films. The first one is excellent. The second one, if you are happy to ignore the fact that Toothless gains any powers that are convenient to the plot (which I am for the sake of animated dragons), expands the world. The third is a solid conclusion. Although I am going to pick at certain parts of this, I enjoyed watching this film a lot.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World centres around the idea that Berk, the Viking’s home of seven generations can no longer home both dragon and Viking. Rescuing more and more dragons, the island village is becoming overcrowded and has caught the attention of more dangerous folk; specifically the dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (whose aim is to capture and kill every Night Fury in existence). He is hired by some warlords to help them capture the Night Fury after they are raided by Hiccup and his gang. Hiccup, now leader of Berk, decides that their best bet is to find the Hidden World, where dragons originally come from, so that they can escape problems from both outside and within the island and find somewhere where humans and dragons can live in peace together.
This film felt very much like the writers had an idea of where they wanted the franchise to end and then they moulded the plot around that. This can absolutely work but here it didn’t really feel like there was much coherence throughout the film – it was like watching a sequence of events. (And I figured out the ending within a few lines of foreshadowing in the beginning.) In fact, it was in the post-film discussion that I realised that two major plot points – Grimmel and the Hidden World – never in fact interact. Grimmel is the catalyst to find and move to the Hidden World but he doesn’t know that’s where they are heading and in face if he did, it might have upped the stakes a little. I don’t think this would have necessarily improved the film but it seemed odd that the two plot points weren’t more closely linked. Having said that, it is a fun romp through these events from Hiccup and Grimmel’s first encounter, to the various dragon raids to the fight sequences at the end.
This franchise has followed Hiccup’s journey from being the coward of the village to becoming the Chief and living in the shadow of his dead father. Afraid that he isn’t as good a leader as Stoic nor as strong without Toothless, the film centres around Hiccup and Toothless’s relationship and reliance on each other. Can a boy outgrow his dragon? This manifests in the introduction of a female dragon of the same species. The Light Fury (as she is known) disrupts their relationship, giving Toothless a reason to leave and forcing Hiccup to stand on his own. I was worried that she was simply going to be a romantic pairing for Toothless just for the sake of it but perhaps worse, she is a plot device. She functions well on a narrative level, but it is disappointing to see female characters, be they human or the dragon variety, as little more than plot devices.
The Light Fury is a character who may have redeemed her function had it not been for the fact that she didn’t seem to have much of a personality beyond being attractive. (And if you think animated dragons can’t have personalities, you’re watching the wrong film.) I also really didn’t like the way she was designed – it was the lazy white and soft edges means feminine trope and HTTYD suffers from similar character design flaws in its female characters that Pixar Princesses do. Similarly, as my friend pointed out, we see three stages of Hiccup’s life – at around 15, 20 and middle age and he has three distinct looks to reflect this. Astrid on the other hand has pretty much looked the same since she was 15. This is recurring issue in animated films.
It is obvious however that the animators clearly enjoyed making the film with sequences dedicated to just watching dragons – mostly Toothless and his other half – bounding, playing and flying. A lot of the film was dragons fly against gorgeous scenery and and it was really beautiful to watch. Paired with the excellent music by John Powell, it is definitely worth seeing in the cinema. The amount of time taken to design the dragon-centred village of Berk and of how the characters have adapted their costumes and weaponry with the aid of their dragons is clear too. Of course the Hidden World itself is gorgeous. If you’re here for the visuals, then you will not be disappointed.
So despite my criticisms, I’d say that this is a fun film and delivers a nice conclusion to the trilogy. This is a series that doesn’t shy away from being emotional and even includes moments of loss and death and then deals with the repercussions. If you enjoyed the previous two films in the franchise, definitely go and see How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.