Given its status as the only Dreamworks franchise to never deliver a true dud, it’s a bit sad to see the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise wrap up at this entry. Not just out of the satisfaction of watching Hiccup’s coming of age story from awkward Viking outcast to dragon-riding chieftain, but because there’s almost a sense that the journey should’ve had a few more stops just to hammer in the final emotional nail.
“The Hidden World” sees the nerdy warrior and his dragon pall, Toothless, lead their community of Berk towards a titular lair beyond the edge of the mapped world, rumored to be the birthplace of all dragons, aiming to relocate their where they can live in harmony, safe from an army of dragon hunters led by brutal traditionalist hunter Grimmel the Grisly, who aims to tear Berk down in disgust over their notion that humans can live in harmony with dragons.
This migration comes with the simultaneous discovery of a female Night Fury dragon attracting Toothless away from his home and forcing Hiccup to come face to face with the reality that his dragon may not always be by his side. While “How to Train Your Dragon” has always been a flashy production, I‘ve always admired its intent to use relatable human elements to evoke a warmer emotional reaction than most Dreamworks faire is known for. “The Hidden World” definitely tries to keep that going although it never manages to quite overcome the problem that’s plagued the series since its inception, which is that every character that isn’t Hiccup, save one or two exceptions, is more of a thin caricature. His friends are onenote gags, his family are supportive but don’t operate beyond the capacity of contributing to his life, and the Vikings he leads are basically copied and pasted model extras, so when the film tries to press for emotional resonance, the makeup of this film along with the franchise itself can present a tough pill to swallow.
Not helping that is the absurd gaps in release that these films have seen, diluting a coherent arc of a boy rising to the occasion to meet his potential thanks to the support of his nontraditional pet, across the span of nearly a decade as opposed to perhaps the five years where it would have perhaps been more effective.
That central arc however, is where the movie manages to shine bright enough from a storytelling perspective to overcome its flaws. “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” really leans in on recontextualizing the trilogy’s journey as a coming of age metaphor, as Hiccup realizes to be the leader that his people need and to support the happiness of his best friend, he may unfortunately have to learn to say goodbye to said friend and move into a new, less certain way of life for the greater good. Although the ending itself doesn’t quite land on the scope it was aiming for, those smaller emotional beats between a once-boy-now-grown-man and his deadly but loveable pet land with poignancy.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” isn’t without its fair share of bloat as is present in most western animated movies but at its core is a lot of heart housed within a production that would still make for a glorious art book even if its intentions to inspire and entertain families of all ages weren’t sincere and successful.
4 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.