“There were dragons when I was a boy. Where they went, only a few know. Our story changed the world forever.”
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a fantastic finale for the film franchise and a poignant farewell to this beautiful realm of humans and dragons. Seeing these characters evolve over the past two films to where they are in The Hidden World feels not only believable but deeply emotional and weighty as well.
The Hidden World takes place one year after the second film, which means there aren’t as many massive changes like the five-year jump between How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2. While the main characters are still massive goofs, they also feel more like burgeoning adults now. Everyone’s been riding, fighting, and living alongside their dragons for at least six years so they’re a more capable bunch now (well, most of the time). Meanwhile, their home, Berk, has grown into a ridiculously overcrowded Viking/dragon utopia.
Hiccup’s (Jay Baruchel) dragon-based tech has also continued to evolve and ties nicely back into the previous films. Seeing things like the wingsuit he was working on in the second movie be perfected in this third film gives the world a real physical sense of tangible continuity. Not all the film’s callbacks work though. While the recurring jokes from the earlier movies -- such as how the twins hate each other, or Toothless playing fetch with Hiccup’s foot -- were fun, they also felt forced and less genuine than before.
Now the village chief, Hiccup, more than any other character, has truly come into his own even though, in many ways, he’s still that boy full of self-doubt and compassion for his people and their dragons. He still looks to his friends, and especially his partner Astrid (America Ferrara), for help and inspiration when times are tough or his confidence wavers. Astrid remains one of the most capable among the supporting characters, having taken on an almost second-in-command role in the village.
A dangerous new threat to Berk comes in the form of the fearsome dragon tracker Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham). Grimmel is a truly fitting villain for this emotional final installment. Not only does Grimmel make things personal by having a special vendetta against Toothless, but he’s also strategic and calculating, always a step ahead of the heroes. He forces the citizens of Berk, particularly Hiccup and Toothless, to make some of their hardest sacrifices yet. Grimmel doesn’t simply want power; he wants to totally eradicate dragons and make a larger, painful point while doing so. To this end, he uses the white female Night Fury dragon -- the Light Fury -- as bait to try to take out Toothless. Fortunately, the introduction of the Light Fury is simply adorable. The way the dragons move and behave like living, lovable creatures has always been essential to this franchise and this entry wisely doubled down on that hard.
Hiccup’s support for his friend during this time shows how far they’ve come together as a team. Usually, it’s been Hiccup developing a new relationship (like discovering Toothless in the first film or meeting his mother in the second). This time it’s Toothless’s turn to forge a new relationship. The pivotal choice facing Hiccup here is one that the Hiccup from even one film ago wouldn’t have had the strength to make. Indeed, none of the characters we met in the first movie would have been capable of what’s required of them here. It took the total arc of three films to get them all here to such a believable and selfless conclusion.
Visually, every installment in this trilogy has depicted a new dragon home, each one more magnificent than the last. The titular Hidden World is a haven for thousands of different kinds of dragons. These awe-inspiring scenes have so much happening on screen at once and wonderfully showcase just how far these films have evolved and improved visually since the 2010 original. Everything from scenes of destruction to dragon fire and dragon scales to the softness of human characters’ hair all looked truly impressive. Factor in the rousing score and you have a movie that’s a feast for the senses.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a fantastic, visually stunning and poignant way to end this beloved trilogy. While the young characters remain joyously funny, this finale also adds mature notes to their story of friendship. The franchise has, like its audience, grown up, and to that end this film grapples with more complex themes than before, making for a truly satisfying yet bittersweet conclusion. I'm going to give "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" a 9 out of 10.