Film Review: How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (USA, 2019) is a fitting end to a coming of age saga

When Cressida Cowell’s book series How To Train Your Dragon was developed into a film, its success took the world by storm and spawned a number of television series, short films, video games and even live performance shows. Now the third, and final film installment has arrived with How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World which sees our two heroes discover their true destinies.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) the young chieftain of Berk is trying to look after his village and maintain a delicate co-existence with the dragons. As he and his fellow dragon riders, Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut (Justin Rupple) and Tuffnut (Kristen Wiig) head out rescuing and bringing the dragons back to Berk, the island has become overrun. This in turn leaves them a target for one of the greatest dragon-hunters Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) to come in search of his most prized prey – a Night Fury. To add to Hiccup’s troubles, the discovery of a wild and untamed Light Fury results in a romantic distraction for Toothless that could cost them both everything.

For two movies, three television series, and countless more spin-offs, our dynamic duo of Hiccup and Toothless have brought joy and adventure to kids and big kids alike. But the story of Hiccup’s journey into becoming the Viking leader of Berk must reach an endpoint. Here director/writer Dean DeBlois, who has helmed the previous two films, deftly juggles two storylines – one for each of our leads.

Hiccup, as a young chieftain has been somewhat neglectful of his duties. Still searching the skies and seas for more islands and pockets of land that may have dragons and rescuing them from other Viking poachers. But the arrival of Grimmel and the threats of more dragon hunters upon Berk sees him have to make a tough decision. All of his roaming around the seas and skies though gives him the best possible opportunity to find the fabled “Hidden World” a place where the dragons live in secret away from humans. It also gives him the motive to find this place in order for the people of Berk to be safe. Because despite his best attempts at a utopia where people and dragons live together, it seems there are plenty of people in the world, like Grimmel, who are intent on destroying that. 

It’s interesting to see DeBlois finally give Toothless an opportunity to evolve as a fully fledged character with his own agenda. We’ve predominantly viewed this series through the lens of our human protagonist. But this time Toothless, a character that we have come to love (and wish we all had as a friend) is fully realised not just as a pet, or a mount or even as Hiccup’s best friend, but as a being with his own needs, and desires. His facial expressions, behaviour and calls all make him just as believable and relatable as any of the human characters. Here Deblois introduces a love interest for Toothless. And on initial impression it could seem cliche but it’s a necessary move to reflect the evolution of both characters. There are quite a few scenes here as Toothless and the Light Fury court, that despite being devoid of dialogue are so full of emotional resonance and heart. Something that could only be achieved courtesy of the long running development of Toothless as a character over the course of the film series. 

Visually this film, like its predecessors is beautiful, with sweeping vistas of oceans and skies. When they finally discover the Hidden World, it’s an explosion of colour and neons and luminescence. We get introduced to a couple more dragons, including the Light Fury that has some differences in body shape and abilities compared to the Night Fury. There’s also the hilarious Tribble like Hobgoblins that just seem to keep multiplying, and despite their cute appearance can pack a mean punch. Then there’s the stylised human characters, I hate to say it but I’m jealous of Hiccup’s flowing locks, and the new dragon scale suits of armour the riders wear are super stylish, and functional.

The film does struggle with involving its supporting cast. Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) despite being a badass in the previous film only has a couple of significant moments here. The rest of the dragon riders (excluding Astrid) are only around when it’s necessary for Hiccup to have some backup and comedic relief. And the villain Grimmel doesn’t seem all that threatening, even with his 4 personal dragons. He probably would’ve been a more convincing villain if his ideologies were something that resonated with some of the other vikings, thereby adding an additional thorn in Hiccup’s side with both physical and psychological intimidation. But all of these things are minor quibbles when really the films have always focused on the story of two friends on a journey together, that inevitably has to come to an end.  

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a fitting end to the coming of age saga for our heroes. It provides closure to Hiccup’s journey from the son of a chief, to a chieftain himself. And a happy ending for Toothless as well as a relatively reasonable explanation as to why there are no dragons in the present day world.  So be sure to pack your tissues for the thrilling and emotional last ride with Hiccup and Toothless as we say a bittersweet goodbye.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is screening in Australian cinemas now through Universal Pictures Australia.

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