Starring: Jay Baruchel (This Is the End), Gerard Butler (300), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Craig Ferguson (Kick-Ass), Jonah Hill (22 Jump Street), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus)
Writer/Director: Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch)
Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes
Release Date: 1 February (UK), 22 February (US)
The third and final entry to the How to Train Your Dragon saga has been a tumultuous one, going through several delays, story changes, and yet another studio shift for Dreamworks. It’s been by no means as prolonged a wait as Incredibles 2 or Mary Poppins Returns, but it’s a worrying trend nonetheless. With that much time between films, you always run the risk of the audience moving on, or building so much anticipation that the final product will never live up to expectations. Whilst The Hidden World by no means surpasses the lofty heights of its predecessors, it is still an exciting and heartfelt animated film that brings the story of Hiccup and Toothless to an appropriate end.
The Hidden World starts off with a bang and the pacing rarely lets up from there. Despite being the longest film in the trilogy (and Dreamworks’ entire animated catalogue for that matter), this instalment gets to the point and breezes by efficiently. There’s a lot less downtime this time around, with more focus on action sequences and a plot that keeps moving forward, but that doesn’t mean the film is completely lacking in substance. Character motivation and development is still handled well, but just in a more efficient manner, and having already spent so much time with these characters it’s a welcome change. What The Hidden World unfortunately lacks in comparison to its predecessors is a sense of urgency and consequence. Despite on paper these being the highest stakes Hiccup and his friends have faced, the film never quite pulls the rug out from underneath the audience in a shocking way; something which both previous films did frequently and effectively. Though executed with plenty of visual flair and wit, the story ultimately goes how you’d expect, and it’s hard not to expect more from the film when its predecessors constantly defied expectations. Luckily, the film’s final moments ultimately bring it all together in a really touching and affirming way. It’s not exactly Toy Story 3-levels of tear jerking, but it comes pretty close, and I honestly couldn’t have thought of a better way to wrap up this story.
Despite often being typecast as the awkward oddball with the funny voice, Jay Baruchel’s performance as Hiccup over the course of three films has really evolved into something greater. Though the character still has his geeky side, he is a seasoned badass hero by this point, and Baruchel’s performance is playful yet brave and touching; he has grown up just as much as Hiccup has. His band of friends have equally matured whilst still keeping true to the hearts of their characters, and they all get great moments to shine. Ruffnut and Tuffnut are especially great this time around, with Kristen Wiig stealing the show in a standout scene, whilst Justin Rupple slips into the role of Tuffnut so well you’ll barely even notice that he’s completely changed voice actor (and thank heavens, I didn’t want to have to praise a movie that stars T.J. Miller in 2019!) Some of the other side characters feel a little underserved, especially Cate Blanchett’s Valka and Kit Harington’s Eret, but their voice work is still top notch, whilst the film finds an effective way of bringing Gerard Butler’s Stoick back in for some sincere flashback scenes. F. Murray Abraham serves as our villain this time around as dragon killer Grimmel, bringing a Bela Lugosi-inspired accent and some dry wit to proceedings. He’s easily the most engaging and charismatic antagonist the series has had so far, but unfortunately they don’t do quite enough to develop him. Heck, the bad guy from How to Train Your Dragon 2 got way more development in comparison, and he was the only bad thing about that otherwise flawless movie.
Where the How to Train Your Dragon movies have always wowed, especially in comparison to the rest of Dreamworks’ output, is in the beauty of their presentation. The childlike yet detail-rich designs of the world of dragons continue to fascinate as new dragon species and Viking tech are constantly introduced, and the animation itself is crisper and more fluid than ever. There’s maybe not quite so many iconic “put it on the wall and frame it” shots this time around, but with Roger Deakins as your visual consultant you’re never going to end up with a bad-looking picture. John Powell’s score continues to be this franchise’s secret weapon, churning out familiar but rousing tunes that stand up there with the best soundtracks for animated features, and whilst I unfortunately didn’t see The Hidden World in 3D this time around I’m sure it’s as engrossing and worth the extra price as its predecessors; so few 3D films are these days.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is neither as surprising as the first or as gamechanging as the second, but it delivers where it counts. Everything you loved about the previous movies is back and just as good as ever, but that’s kind of the crux of the problem: it just doesn’t bring enough new to the table. Even so, there’s rarely a frame of this adventure that isn’t bursting with charm and wonder, and as a final entry to these adventures it closes the book in a satisfying way so few franchises can claim to have. I’m going to miss Hiccup and Toothless, but their story has run its course far enough. I just wish Dreamworks had better franchises to pick up the slack in its stead. Instead we get more Trolls and Boss Baby, and they’re already talking about rebooting Shrek for some reason…
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10