Fire cannot kill a dragon.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019): 6 out of 10: How to Train Your Dragon ends its trilogy after a surprisingly long nine-year journey (they released the first one in 2010 for those who are math adverse). The Hidden World provides a satisfactory conclusion to the overall story with a nice journey.
The Good: First, this is a gorgeous film. Beautifully animated with incredible use of color, The Hidden World really knocks it out the park. The titular Hidden World itself is a standout with great use of both lighting and the previously mentioned color. (This is definitively one for the HDR TV) The character designs, from the dragons to the humans, are also well done. There is plenty of creativity on hand to differentiate among the group.
In addition, we finally have a trilogy with a real ending. A true conclusion. No coming back from this one. No story hooks or to be continued wink at the audience nonsense. Honestly, this is too rare by half in films these days. You know for all the flack that The Matrix Revolutions gets, including from yours truly, it ended in such a way that we can be certain there will not be any more Matrix films. Hold on a second, I just got a memo. What? The Matrix 4 in 2022 with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss? But Neo turned into starlight or cosmic dust or computer code at the end of that movie, and Trinity had like five pieces of rebar sticking through her body… Ow, my head hurts…
Anyway, back to How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, where were we. Oh yes, good things about the movie. Well, for starters there is Toothless, the main alpha cute dragon and star of the show. From his cute bird of paradise courtship display to attract a mate to a hearty Godzilla roar to assert dominance, he is easily the best-acted person or creature in the film. The fact he doesn’t speak outside of Godzilla noises goes a long way towards his winning personality. (In fact, not just does he have the Godzilla roar down pat he also does that thing where electricity shoots down the spines on his back, and of course he has that atomic breath, and then in that scene where he attacks the Tokyo Tower… Hold on a minute.)
Other standout voice acting includes America Ferrera as Astrid, the main love interest and common-law wife at this point of the trilogy. F. Murray Abraham as the big bad dragon hunter (He does a great job even though the character itself is a bit of a weak sauce). Gerard Butler does a quick flashback scene to remind people what Vikings actually sound like and poor Cate Blanchett who puts in some great voice work for a character that is saddled with one of the most awkward side plots in the film. (There is an obnoxious teenager who has a crush on her and it is even cringer than that brief description implies.)
The Bad: Speaking of obnoxious characters and cringey subplots, The Hidden World is chock full of these. We have the twins where the boy goes on endlessly about his fake beard and offers unsolicited and unneeded love advice to our main character (Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup not Toothless) and his ugly sister who is so obnoxious that the movie hangs a lampshade on it so that when she is kidnapped the big bad lets her go so as not to have to listen to her anymore. Unfortunately, the audience has no such out. Add in the teenage Viking with a crush on Hiccup’s mother and a half a dozen other “comic” relief characters, and it becomes overwhelming. They just take so much screen time.
The big bad’s lifetime goal is to kill the last Night Flyer (Toothless natch.) He is an idiot. How often does he shoot Toothless with a tranquillizer gun? At least twice, if I recall correctly. He is like a freaking Bond villain. I am half surprised he doesn’t go full GoldenEye and tell Toothless his entire plan and then put Toothless and his love interest in a jet cockpit and go off for a cup of tea because there is no way a dragon could get out of that.
Luckily for the big bad, our hero Hiccup is even a bigger idiot. There is an excellent scene at the beginning of the film where Hiccup and his friends rescue a bunch of dragons from slavers. It is very well realized with dragon armor and flaming swords and an attempt at stealth. Yet when the big bad is headed their way with four dragons of his own and a hundred ships, they go for the exact same strategy.
Hiccup, you have hundreds of dragons under your control. All the big bad has is four dragons and a hundred ships filled with his entire army. Wooden ships, very flammable wooden ships. I mean you don’t have to be Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains to figure out what to do next.
The Ugly: I have given all three otherwise excellent How to Train Your Dragon films a better than average but still lukewarm reception. The problem I have (your mileage will definitely vary) is voice actor Jay Baruchel. He was a little off for the part as a rebellious teenager who doesn’t want to be a Viking king, but at least Baruchel was in the ballpark for that particular role. As an actual Viking king and leader of men, he hasn’t grown, voice wise, an inch.
I have a hard time believing that there wasn’t a voice coach off to the side saying “Could you try not sounding like you are complaining that the NYU cafeteria is out of the organic feta?”. He doesn’t sound like a Viking. Any Viking. Ever. It is the conundrum of fitting the actor to the part. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good actor, but you wouldn’t hire him to play FDR. Billy Crystal is an excellent actor, but he isn’t going out for the lead in The Larry Bird Story. Baruchel has been unable to grow into the part, assuming he was ever right for the part to begin with. It is a shadow over the whole enterprise.
In Conclusion: As third sequels to animated films go, this is a good one. They put money on the screen and delivered a beautiful product with a satisfying conclusion. Well worth a watch for fans of the series.