No April Fools joke here. I’m not a fan of the holiday. Let’s just move on to the actual post.
Yes, I know I’m a month late on this one. But hey! Better late than never!
How to Train Your Dragon is one of my favorite animated series. I absolutely love the first two movies, though I’m of the opinion that the first is the far better film. Naturally, I was absolutely stoked for the release of the third and final film in the series: The Hidden World. But it’s taken me far longer than I had hoped to get around to seeing it.
But now I have! So was it worth it? As a conclusion to the trilogy, is this a worthy movie? Well… I feel like the Captain can explain this best.
This movie suffers from some pretty glaring flaws. The pacing is wonky, the villain is half-baked, and there are some obvious corner-cuts that can be spotted all throughout the film. However, regardless of these flaws, I believe that this is a good film. The animation is stunning, the story is touching, and the ending is absolutely perfect! But the question is: do the flaws overpower the positives?
Let’s find out, shall we? But be warned! There will be spoilers ahead. If you still haven’t watched the movie and you’re interested in doing so, go watch it before reading. You have been warned.
The Plot: Love is in the Air (As is War, But Let’s Ignore That)
Taking place a while after the events of the second film, the movie picks up with Hiccup, Toothless and friends raiding a warship to liberate some captured dragons. In response, the army they attacked hires an experienced dragon-hunter to take them down. Fearing this, Hiccup follows up on a story that his father was obsessed with in his youth: the Hidden World, the home of all dragons. All the while, a love-struck Toothless pursues a white Nightfury, and Hiccup and Astrid move closer to finally tying the knot.
It’s not cramped at all, I swear.
This is where the pacing issues occur. Two of these plot lines, those being the romantic ones, are decently well fleshed out, if not a bit rushed. However, the main plot, that being the one regarding the dragon-slayer and the Hidden World, is horribly underdeveloped! They’re filled with half-baked ideas and characters, all of which could’ve been incredibly cool!
Let’s start with the villain. He’s a pro dragon hunter and an expert mental manipulator. In terms of backstory, personality and tactics, he’s a perfect foil to Hiccup! He is a super-genius tactician, and he manipulates dragons in a malicious way, as compared to Hiccup’s intellect and kind methods. Whereas Hiccup spared a Nightfury, thus leading to the events of the whole series, the villain mercilessly killed one in it’s sleep, and he was hailed as a hero. On the surface, he seems like a perfect antagonist to Hiccup and Toothless.
Here’s the problem: we don’t get to see his backstory. While we do see his methods put into action, he still feels the need to explain it rather than let it speak for itself. Everything about this character is ‘Tell, Don’t Show’. Which is a damn shame, because he could have been a spectacular animated villain!
I get that it’s a kids movie, but come on! The first movie respected the intelligence of it’s viewers. Why can’t this one?!
The Hidden World is just as poorly off. Mainly because we get all of one scene within it. It’s another shame, because the Hidden World itself is incredibly impressive! From the environments to the dragons themselves, the whole setting is a visual spectacle! But we don’t really get a chance to explore it! We get one scene, then bam! We’re gone!
This is made even worse by the third act. Whereas the first two were slow and took their time to build things up, the third act simply rushes straight to the conclusion! Almost immediately after the Hidden World scene, we get into the big final battle! Don’t get me wrong, the battle itself is reasonably cool and engaging. But they really needed to let the other plot lines sit in the oven for a while. As it stands, they pulled out the whole tray of cookies just to get at the one that cooked quicker than the others.
Quick baking tip to you guys: don’t do that. Just wait until the whole tray is done. That one guy will survive.
Most of the characters get thrown under the bus in this movie. None of the side characters have the time to properly develop in any meaningful way beyond cheap, meaningless gags. Gags which, mind you, didn’t even crack up any of the kids in the audience. As it stands, the side characters are only there to assist in the action scenes. Luckily, the main characters have a pretty solid, cute, natural and enjoyable arc.
Still, despite it’s flaws, I greatly enjoy the story. It’s simple, it’s sweet, and it’s got some solid action. On top of that, the ending is absolutely fantastic! It brought a tear to my eye, and it’s a perfect ending to Hiccup’s story. If nothing else, just watch this movie for the ending! It’s legitimately amazing!
Visuals: Don’t Look Too Hard at the Backgrounds
Holy fuck does this movie look good! There’s an insane level of detail in the environments and character models! You can see each individual hair on Hiccup’s chin, and they all look perfect! There are shots so gorgeous that I was taken aback! For a moment, I thought I was watching a live-action movie!
A damn good looking one, mind you!
However, the devil lies in the very little details. If you observe certain shots too closely, they begin to fall apart. Granted, this is an incredibly minor problem. See, if you pay attention to the extras in the crowds, you’ll more than likely see repeated characters. For example, in one of the final scenes, you can see two identical little boys with scrawny arms and brown hair celebrating.
Both of which are the same character model as little boy Hiccup. Which, given the context of the scene, is kind of hilarious.
In a TV production, something like this would be acceptable. But in a large production Hollywood film? Come on. There’s cutting corners, and then there’s giving up!
Still, given how fucking gorgeous the rest of the movie is, I can accept this issue. You could take practically any shot and turn it into a painting! It’s not Spider-Verse good, but it’s still damn good!
Direction: Subtlety is Key
The direction is very solid across the board. The cinematography is solid, with some dynamic and engaging camera angles and shots throughout the film. The performances are exceptional, and there are tons of subtle little details that make the movie far more engaging to watch!
There are tons of images all throughout the film that reflect on similar images from the first two films. For example, Hiccup’s first interaction in the first movie, that being him raising his hand up in peace and waiting for him to come to him, is reflected at the end of this film. From the framing to the actual timing of the movements, the two are practically identical! This mirror imagery is masterful, and it greatly increases the emotion of the scene.
God I want to go into further detail. But I did promise minor spoilers, so I’ll stop it there. I’ll simply leave off by stating that, could I give Dean DeBlois a high five and a “Nice!”, I certainly would.
Conclusion: Shaking, But Still Solid
This is a very flawed movie. But I’ll be damned if it’s not enjoyable! I don’t think it’s as good as the films that came before it. But I still think that it’s a worthy conclusion to the trilogy, and a worthwhile film on it’s own.
If you’re a fan of the series, I’d recommend giving it a shot. If you enjoy simple, heartwarming animated adventures, give it a go. Hell, if you’re interested in animation as a craft, I’d recommend at least giving it a watch just for the spectacle! It’s got a lot of issues, but it’s still a good time from start to end.
Now all we can hope for is that the series doesn’t go the way of the ogre, if you catch my drift.