Picking up shortly after the events in How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014), How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World thrusts Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his trusty dragon, Toothless into the world of adulthood. Accompanying the Chief of Berk are Astrid (America Ferrera), the soon-to-be-Chiefess of Berk; Valka (Cate Blanchett), Hiccup’s long-lost mother; Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Berk’s second in command; Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse); and the most annoying set of twins this side of The Bachelor: Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple, replacing T.J. Miller from the previous installments).
Life in Berk is going swimmingly. Dragons and Vikings are living harmoniously, and despite the ongoing construction from dragons haphazardly knocking over various buildings, Berk’s menagerie grows with every raid on dragon smuggling ships. And while everyone in Berk sees this time of peace as a chance for Hiccup and Astrid to settle down, Hiccup is far too concerned with the safety of the dragons.
Concerns quickly validated by the appearance of Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), an expert dragon hunter who claims to have captured and killed every last Fury. That is until Grimmel learns of Toothless, prompting Hiccup to lead the citizens of Berk to abandon their home in search of the Hidden World, a secret land at the edge of the world known only to the dragons, where they will be safe from Grimmel’s grasp.
Directed by franchise regular Dean DeBlois, The Hidden World waste little time drawing the viewer into the world, but getting the story going is another matter. Running 104 minutes, Hidden World is slow going for about half the movie, almost as if DeBlois is having second thoughts about wrapping this three-part tale up.
Like the previous two installments, Hidden World is anchored by a heartfelt and thoughtful message, bolstered by stunning visuals and enchanting worlds. These CGI images are what first brought currency to How to Train Your Dragon in 2010, and with Hidden World, the animators continue to up their game, giving each shot a practical sense of depth and light without hampering the characters with too realistic of an appearance. Equally impressive are the action set pieces, which favor the use of long-takes rather than staccato editing. Opening with a night raid on a dragon smuggling ship shrouded by smoke and fog, the animators quickly establish the rules by which Hiccup and his crew play. Though they are Viking warriors, they are not ruthless killers who rely on terror and destruction to accomplish their goals. Their skills rely more on theatrics and deception, which not only works to their advantage but the viewer’s as well.
If only the story used the same sorts of deception and misdirection, The Hidden World might have been a better film. It’s a predictable movie, not that you know exactly how things will play out, but that each scene has a rote quality to it. Only a few moments toward the end contain surprises; the rest play exactly how you think they might.
But despite that predictability, The Hidden World is an oddly satisfying conclusion to a delightful trilogy of films. Not because the message at the heart of The Hidden World rings true, but because DeBlois and company don’t bludgeon the audience to death with it. They know images can sometimes speak louder than words, and the image of Hiccup with his hand placed gently on Toothless’ snout is more than enough to get their point across.