The third film in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, The Hidden World captures a lot of what made the first two movies the best animated films out of Dreamworks this decade. But is retreading the same ground enough to make this a good film in its own right?
My praise for The Hidden World would be very similar to that of the previous films – firstly, the animation is phenomenal. The series pushes more realistic character designs while maintaining a cartoonish charm, avoiding the uncanny and offering dozens of stunning sights. Each character has their own distinct design, yet they fit perfectly side by side. The Hidden World‘s greatest strength over its predecessors is five years of visual evolution.
What’s always striking about this series (and DeBlois’s earlier Lilo and Stitch) is how it manages to capture character among non-human figures – a ton of effort is poured into getting Toothless’s animations just right, giving him perhaps the most vibrancy of any character despite an inability to speak.
A central focus of this movie is Toothless meeting a female member of his species that the humans nickname Light Fury. A great scene on the beach finds Toothless attempting to woo her, invoking childish moves and odd Birds of Paradise-inspired dances. These details establish Toothless as an awkward young adult much like Hiccup.
Which, the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is the guiding force of the series – and I’d say this is where The Hidden World falters a bit. The film does reach similar emotional heights to the first two entries, but a lot is saved for the ending.
Where the first two films speak of learning the language of a supposed enemy and coexistence, The Hidden World deals with separation. Hiccup and Toothless have formed an almost symbiotic relationship over the series, but The Hidden World gives Toothless his own personal pursuits. While this provides a strong inner conflict for Hiccup, it disrupts the screen time between the leads.
Where The Hidden World is a largely satisfying conclusion to a trilogy, its central conflict doesn’t do enough do raise the stakes from the previous. The villain is largely forgettable and is notably less threatening, and most of the characters lack an arc or real development – despite the distinct designs, the side characters offer little but comic relief. This is an excuse to revisit the familiar more than being an expansion on the lore.
Luckily, this is a world worth revisiting. For those invested in the series, it will hit you hard at key moments. Despite being about mythical creatures, How to Train Your Dragon has always felt like the story of a boy and his dog. The Hidden World pushes past that, instead paralleling old friends who you know someday will go their own way. Toothless is never subservient but an equal, and this entry explores what that means as the two enter maturity.
As such, The Hidden World is a stellar conclusion to a great series, but one that doesn’t quite have as much impact on its own. The narrative beats land a bit flat during the second act, but this is balanced out with quieter stakes from the earlier installments. How much you get from this depends entirely on how invested you are in the series as a whole.
3.5 Stars Out of 5