When it was announced soon after the first How To Train Your Dragon film that there would be a trilogy I could not be happier. Coming off of an innovative starting picture that put so much time and effort into its central duo and its conceit that you couldn’t help but fall in love with both Hiccup and Toothless. Over time however I’m sad to say the series has lost its storytelling edge, instead focusing on how something looks instead of how it feels. While there are small glimmers of nostalgia here to tide you over, The Hidden World feels rushed and instead of a triumphant battle cry, it ends on a deflated whimper.
The Hidden World tells the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), one year after the events of the second film. He has been chief for the past year and despite some growing pains he is easing into the role with the help of his dragon Toothless. However thanks to his actions he has turned the island of Berk into a target. Not only do dragon traders want to teach them a lesson but mysterious dragon hunter Grimmel (F Murray Abraham) joins the fight in search of Toothless. To complicate matters Hiccup must contend with Toothless’ search for a partner and the various voices that disagree with his decisions as chief.
If this sounds like a lot to handle in one film, you’d be right. Not only cramming in an awful lot of emotional real estate to deal with it expands out to handle the supporting characters as well. While the series prides itself on its family trappings, The Hidden World deals with the extended family, at times ignoring the real reason we came to watch the film. The story branches are so spread out it can’t hold up the film’s central story. The ending is rushed, the villain is undercooked and the uncertainty Hiccup feels over the course of the film seeps into the bones of the Hidden World as well.
The main issue is the fact that Hiccup and Toothless’ finale lacks the resonance required from a finale. The world here seems emptier while at the same time, more opaque. This would work to match a film with an increased level of darkness and fear but The Hidden World is still firmly planted within the realm of children’s fantasy. The jokes are expressly aimed at the young with little to no double coding to play towards the grown up viewers. While the opening was more inclusive, this feels like an ending for one set age group and despite aging Hiccup up, the world around him seems to have gotten more childish.
While this trilogy has always acted with the concept of social commentary floating in the background, The Hidden World certainly has the most pressing subject matter. However this doesn’t seem to have emerged naturally, instead coming about because of shifting ideologies outside of the production. That being said it is no less vital here as Hiccup and Toothless story ends on a note of peaceful acceptance and subtle change. It might be the best part of this capper as it acknowledges its own limitations and the limitations of the world outside of the fantastical.
This unique world, while much more emotionally relevant, has never been this impressive artistically. Not only is the animation some of the best around but the unique soul of Berk and the world Hiccup has created for his tribe is well served. It’s bright, full of eccentricities and a naturalistic wonder for the most part. Sure there are slight missteps, with a certain sequence in the middle proving too difficult to make anything out but usually it is smart enough not to overburden the audience with too many sights that you miss out on the important things.
If anything, The Hidden World serves its purpose. It looks good, it has a few things to say, some intentionally, some not but it doesn’t serve its true purpose and finish a trilogy. Instead it resigns itself to the role of entertaining solo effort and while that is all well and good, ultimately I expected a better and more thoughtful conclusion for one of the best double acts to come out of animation this decade.