“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” comes five years after the monstrous success of the franchise’s Golden Globe-winning sequel. The film picks up one year after the events of “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” and it doesn’t take very long for the familiar swelling score and endearing narration of the franchise hero Hiccup to welcome the audience back into the fantastical world of Berk. During the franchise’s 10-year run, audiences have been given the privilege of seeing Toothless, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his fellow Vikings grow — “The Hidden World” is no exception.
The “How to Train Your Dragon” films hit their strides with their stunning visuals, their concepts calling to mind the groundbreaking world building of films such as James Cameron’s “Avatar.” With two films under its belt, expanding the world the franchise has developed would seem to be less of a priority, as audiences are well acquainted with the Isle of Berk. Yet the film still manages to find ways to offer stunning adventures. Visually, “The Hidden World” is an imaginative tour de force. And this exceeds world building.
The film’s introduction of eccentric and sinister new villains, along with a new crop of nightmarish dragons, is a fortuitous endeavor much like the film’s predecessors. But while “The Hidden World” does this visually with precision, the film loses its footing when it comes to its storyline.
The film centers on the introduction of the light fury Toothless’ female counterpart. Her animation is intuitive almost to a fault and her presentation incredibly on the nose. Toothless is black; the light fury is white. Toothless is broad where she is slender. They even go so far as to give her a slight curve of her chest as if to scream that she is female. The film does try to mitigate this through the core character’s interactions with her — her initial evasiveness akin to Toothless’ introduction in the first film. But this only succeeds in marking her as feral and uncomplicated.
As so much of the film’s motivating action derives from the light fury, the conflict is often marred by the film’s inability to substantiate the emotional demands it sets up. The film invests too much time in the easy gratification of Toothless’ first love. It fails in providing any real fodder for the audience to become endeared to the light fury in a way that raises the stakes.
And this is only exacerbated by the antics of the film’s supposedly merciless but unfortunately forgettable villain Grimmel the dragon slayer (F. Murray Abraham).
The “How to Train Your Dragon” series has thrived on integrating moments of intense and complex emotions into films that are ostensibly for children. “The Hidden World” possesses that same spirit but is not immune to the conventional and tedious struggles of creating an engaging children’s film.
Where previous films in this franchise left audiences agape and desolate only to be saved by resolutions that offered complex catharsis, this film takes it easier on its viewers.
And that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
That isn’t to say the film doesn’t deliver on its traditional heart-stopping moments of action — “The Hidden World” is punctuated by moments of high emotion, much like its predecessors. But the underdevelopment of the new characters, both villains and heroes, takes the edge off of the success of the film’s working components.
Still, while the film lacks in utilizing its new characters effectively, it excels in setting up a supporting cast of colorful and familiar faces that are incredibly effective at doing some of the heavy lifting.
Structurally, the film’s core themes permeate the motivations of both Toothless and Hiccup, adding even more to the central relationship the films have been developing from the start. And the film does an incredible job of wrapping up the franchise in a way that is incredibly fulfilling. Even with its flaws, “The Hidden World” is a fitting farewell to a beloved franchise.
“How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is currently playing at UA Berkeley 7.