The Oberlin Review

Final “How to Train Your Dragon” Installment Warms Hearts

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Editor’s note: This review contains major spoilers for How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

The How To Train Your Dragon franchise has always held a special place in my heart, largely because it’s very loosely based on Cressida Cowell’s book series, which I loved as a child. With stunning visuals, one of my all-time favorite scores, and unusually mature themes for children’s movies, How To Train Your Dragon is undoubtedly one of the best animated series of the last decade. Although the latest installment, The Hidden World, pales slightly in comparison to its predecessors, it is still a thoroughly enjoyable movie and provides an emotional end to a fantastic trilogy.

A large part of the franchise’s appeal is the journey of Hiccup, the movies’ hero. Prior to The Hidden World, Hiccup struggled with his identity as a viking and then as a leader; however, here he tries to find who he is without his dragon, Toothless. The film’s storyline isn’t quite as developed as the previous two installments, yet the concepts it does build on lift the film above mediocrity.

One area where the movie falls short is with its villain, Grimmel. Grimmel is, in theory, Hiccup’s diametric opposite, using his intelligence and contraptions to hunt dragons rather than tame them. Properly developed, the evil version of the hero is one of my favorite villain archetypes, as it shows how a hero is more than just their abilities. Yet Grimmel never gets the development his character really needs, rendering him one-dimensional and rather boring. In a way, Grimmel is most disappointing because of his potential. These shortcomings, however, are not enough to sink the movie; the engaging characters and emotional subplots more than make up for the lack of a compelling antagonist. 

John Powell’s score across the franchise is one of my favorites, and The Hidden World does not disappoint. The music is not only beautiful, but provides the perfect accompaniment for every scene, evoking sorrow, excitement, and even fear when needed. The music is matched, scene for scene, by the movie’s stunning visuals, which bring the vibrant world to life. From colorful dragons to panoramic ocean shots, action-packed fight scenes to hazy flashbacks, the animation is consistently stunning, not only matching its predecessors but taking risks to to stay fresh and interesting.

While the movie excels when showing off its world and focusing on Hiccup, its secondary characters are less successful. Both Hiccup’s girlfriend, Astrid, and his mother, Valka, receive far less attention than in previous films, and The Hidden World is definitely worse for it. Instead, the film spends more time with Hiccup’s friends, primarily Snotlout, Ruffnut, and Tuffnut. These characters are played primarily for laughs, and while they are funny at times, the lack of meaningful interactions between Hiccup and those he is closest to makes the movie feel less meaningful.

One of the reasons that the How To Train Your Dragon movies — and books — stood out to me growing up was that they felt like they were made specifically for me. We’re a weird bunch here at Oberlin, and in many ways, these are our movies — they’re about feeling like you don’t quite fit in and finding a place where you do. For me, that was Oberlin — for Hiccup, that was with Toothless and among the dragons. When the question of saying goodbye to Toothless first comes up in the movie, it brings to mind the all-too-real fact that sometimes we have to say goodbye to the communities and people that helped forge our identities and made us feel at home.

These emotional themes are why The Hidden World succeeds. The characters and relationships built over the course of the last two films provide a truly touching and heartfelt ending to the series. I had mixed feelings for most of the movie’s runtime, yet I was completely sold by its finish — a great ending for the movie and the franchise, and possibly one of my favorite endings from any movie ever. The movie is worth watching for its finale alone.

The Hidden World is clearly the third chapter of a series, and I would not recommend it if you have not watched the first two. If you have, however, seen the first two films and enjoyed them, then The Hidden World is a must-watch. While not quite as good as its predecessors, it still manages to entertain and is an excellent send-off to the franchise.

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