Although a story about Vikings making friends with dragons seems very “high concept”, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has been a big success. I mean, not MCU-style success, but it’s more than held its own in the world of animated movie franchises. The films have raked in more than $1 billion – nothing to be sneezed at. Now director Dean DeBlois brings the series to a satisfying conclusion with The Hidden World.
One real distinguishing feature of these films is their consistency. The producers have maintained the same director throughout in DeBlois. He also wrote all three instalments, adapting them from Cressida Cowell’s books series. This means the all-important look-and-feel is uniform across all three films. And it means the story remains consistent as well. The familiar characters appear once more, voiced by the same actors. It’s all very comfortable – in a good way.
This chapter opens with Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) having achieved his dream of building a new society. Berk is now home to humans and dragons co-existing (mostly) in harmony. But a new threat appears in the form of dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham). Grimmel’s goal is to subjugate dragons; but he fixates on destroying every last Night Fury, which includes Hiccup’s dragon Toothless. And Grimmel has a “secret weapon” at his disposal – a captured white dragon dubbed a Light Fury. Grimmel plans to use the female Light Fury’s charms to draw Toothless out. But Hiccup and his pals Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Astrid (America Ferrera) aren’t going to let Toothless go without a fight. But when the tide turns in Grimmel’s favour, Hiccups realises their only chance might be to find the fabled “hidden world” – a supposed dragon sanctuary at the edge of the world.
The animation in all the films has been amazing, and The Hidden World is no exception. The now-familiar but still remarkable flying sequences remain, but DeBlois ramps up the scale of the spectacle in this film.
DeBlois also makes it very clear this is the last in the film series. So expect loose ends to be wrapped up, and emotions to be bared. The trademark humour remains intact, as to the distinctive quirks in many of the characters. I found the conclusion satisfying, and it even had a touch of real-world logic about it. The definitive ending provides a welcome change from the endless re-boots and re-imaginings of recent years.
While clearly aimed at kids, the film throws out enough drama and Easter Eggs to keep adults engaged as well. The sheer scale of the film and some of the things Grimmel gets up to might be a bit daunting for under-sixes. Older kids should be fine though.
I got a lot more out of The Hidden World than I expected. This film delivers on a number of fronts. That in turn makes it something both kids and adults can enjoy together. Pretty much an ideal holiday movie.
Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: (Voices of) Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, F. Murray Abraham
Release Date: 3 January 2019
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television