Director: Dean DeBlois
Stars: America Ferrera, Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World begins in murk, with the enterprising viking heroes of the first two films liberating a number of caged dragons from hunter/trapper Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham). The sequence sees characters emerging from the mist in a variety of hapless and anarchic ways, in keeping with the comedic tone of the first two movies. It also carries with it a strong line in promoting animal freedoms. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his friends put themselves in harm’s way like warriors for Greenpeace.
Here, then, we have the two main concerns of the film right up front; the concept of bringing your characters into sharp relief, and that if you love something, you should be prepared to let it go.
Hiccup has been running missions like the one described above with some regularity, it seems, and the viking home territory of Berk has become overcrowded with dragons. Their sanctuary is no longer fit for purpose. And now they’re on Grimmel’s radar. He’s out to capture all dragons, and he means to kill Hiccup’s beloved Toothless. Hiccup’s relationship with Astrid (America Ferrera) is also maturing, with talk of wedding bells surrounding them. As before, Astrid is every bit Hiccup’s equal, and one of the minor touches that pays dividends here is how she’ll fight his corner, even before she’s made up her mind if he’s right. He’s her man, and she’s protective of that.
Hiccup and Astrid aren’t the only couple of note in The Hidden World. Toothless meets his opposite; a ‘Light Fury’. This affords director Dean DeBlois the opportunity to play in purely visual terms, as the two dragons learn to communicate with one another through gesture. In these sequences The Hidden World becomes a showcase for the animators. There’s one on a lake shore that’ll charm even the most cold hearted of viewers, while an aerial sequence around the rim of the world’s most impressive waterfall is something of a showstopper; enhanced by the on-hand guidance of renowned live action cinematographer Roger Deakins.
The plot itself is, admittedly, a little thin. With the mythical Hidden World as their quest and with Grimmel and his minions (not that kind) always at their heels, there’s something a little Battlestar: Galactica / The Last Jedi about the main chunk of the story; a mass migration in search of a promised land. The inevitable third act showdown is fine enough, but it is in other areas that The Hidden World shines. It’s in the growing emotional maturity of its characters; Hiccup and Astrid in particular. It’s in that touching, perfectly judged coda, and its in the showboating visuals as well as the minor touches that push the ordinary out into the realms of the mildly extraordinary.
It’s about midway through the film that Hiccup points out dryly to one of his colleagues that he has a prosthetic leg. It’s a fact that the film (and series) has taken great strides to normalise (Hiccup and Toothless play fetch with his detachable foot). Toothless, too, is hindered by injury, with part of his tail missing. This kindred element is part of the bond that has sealed their unlikely friendship. The Hidden World emboldens its characters further. ‘Disability’ becomes a misnomer. Incredibly heartening to say the least.
By now you’ll know whether this is a ride for you. Some of the character designs are a little irksome (both human and dragon alike), and Kristen Wiig’s deliberately annoying Ruffnut is, well, annoying, but honestly these are nitpicks in a world cultivated, sustained and now brought to a close by Dean DeBlois. He’s shepherded all three of these movies, which together make up one of the most endearing trilogies of recent times, animated or otherwise. And while the plot machinations may lack ambition, the progressive sentiments of the piece do not.
Stop hunting, cross borders, love each other and know yourself. Sounds pretty good.