While How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, does not live up to either of its predecessors, it is an excellent bittersweet finale to one of the best trilogies made. For those of you who feel any sense of connection to Hiccup, Toothless, and the gang of appropriately named Berkian (fool, twat) Vikings, do bring tissues. What it lacks in further improved upon plot development and maturity, a valid antagonist, and breaking from a formulaic, safe mold, it makes up for in its characters and visuals. It's absolutely shocking to think that the first film came out over a decade ago, you can completely see predominantly Hiccup (Jay Burachel) and Astrid's (America Ferrera) aging. Some of us literally grew up with these characters, and when you get to see and hear them again, it's as if you were having a school reunion. Whether it be the idiotic yet lovable twins voiced by Kristen Wiig and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the always egotistical and hilarious Snotlout (Jonah Hill), or sequel newcomers voiced by Cate Blanchett and Kit Harington, it's a great voice cast, and you can just about see their performances through the animation. But above all, the undeniable charm and chemistry of the dragons is the glue of the entire book and film series. Just as the Vikings of Berk learn to become dragon riders with their best friends, so to do we the audience become fully immersed in their mutual love and attached to the dragons like our own pets. So yes, once again, please BYOT (bring your own tissues).
Frankly, when the credits rolled, and Roger Deakins' named appeared as a visual consultant, it made complete sense. The visual effects, animation, and landscapes were utterly gorgeous. Every single shot was breathtaking and filled with the sense of endless wanderlust and undying dream to explore. Obviously, the hair was flowing and realistic, but it's 2019 people, that's just a standard. What blew my mind was how detailed every piece of dragon scale glimmered, how the eyes watered, the snot running from young Hiccups tiny nose, how the trees were vividly evergreen, the clouds fluffy, the fog thick enough to make you squint, and how the fire roared. Right from the intro, Hiccup's dragon scale armor and ignited flame sword was straight out of my D&D character, and I could just feel my inner child filled with giddiness. It's absolutely stunning how the flames flickered to life and sliced right through the fog. There was not a single frame that did not visually impress me or leave me in awe of the rich texture vistas filled with the utmost detail and splendor. This is undoubtedly already locked in for animated nominations.
The Hidden World also has John Powell returning for another brilliant musical score. A magnificent painting with the striking visuals and sweeping flights over the luscious lands through the film's world. At times you could argue that it may get a little Celtic rather than the story's iteration of Viking backgrounds. Powell manages to create a sense of tone for each character yet again and is able to flip the emotional resonance off and on when required. The score brings a higher sense of stakes when action and suspense are involved while bringing a serene innocence to Toothless' quest for first love. Powell has always managed to evoke the feeling that we the audience are rising through the skies on our very own dragons, reaching out hands out through the passing clouds. One thing the trilogy is always successful in capturing is the dream and desire to explore and not only discover new lands, but find who you are. For fans of Jónsi, in expected tradition, there is another song provided.
Where the film falters, is in how it is unable to build off of what the second film introduced. An expected and genre staple turns into darker themes and builds up/payoff of emotions set-up were developed superbly. I was a hot mess with HTTYD2, and I frankly expected to have been in the same self-made pool for this third and final installment. Unfortunately, the third film takes a hard landing onto a safe airstrip. It doesn't go outside of its comfort zone, nor does it expand off of the darker tone that the specific scene in (and overall) HTTYD2 had. Out of the entire trilogy, this plays more overtly to its younger audience members, filled with more humor than I personally wanted. Furthermore, the film does not go out with an antagonistic bang. This entries villain, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) is nothing more than a hired henchman with an accent. At first, I thought he was going to bring what could have been an Anton Chigurh for the dragons, but instead, he is played out extremely generic and not menacing. Grimmel strictly hates dragons because apparently all he's good at is killing them. There is no emotional or sympathetic background, nor is there any specific line of dialogue or sentiment monologued to grand effect. Not to poke and prod, but there were plenty of popular, proven examples that a villain with a just yet twisted cause or background is far more intimidating and emboldened.
So while the film did lack the development and stakes that you would expect from a grand finale, it stays true to what director Dean DeBlois has established since Lilo & Stitch...an undying bond with your animal companion. Having lost my own dog not too long ago, I can and do immediately relate to pet bonds. So you can bet all your money in the bank that Isle of Dogs and HTTYD3 both turned me into water. The pure emotion that we have been following for almost a decade continues being nothing short of poignant and heavy hitting. While some may not have been a fan of the low hanging technique of utilizing the dragons as exposition, I truly enjoyed the dynamic. The obvious yet lovely parallels between the two front couples, Hiccup & Astrid / Toothless & Light Fury played off very well. While not subtle, I do think that the shift from loud leadership struggles and coming of age to quiet exploration and first love, did work out for the benefit of the plot and pacing. What the story and tone lacked, the character relations and growth did not suffer.
If you are a fan of the series, you are obviously going to be watching this. I don't think that anyone who hasn't caught up will blindly jump in, and I implore that you do not. It's a terrific farewell to the loving world and characters we have literally seen grow up and change. Regardless of it being that narrative weakest in the trilogy, it is the undisputed visual best. To all my fellow dragon riders, the world still does not deserve dragons. One day, maybe.