Goodbye, How To Train Your Dragon (HTTYD), that most underrated of animated franchises.
Despite doing reasonably well at the box office to justify three movies, HTTYD has not made quite as much money as, say, the Ice Age or Despicable Me movies. And as critically-acclaimed as they are, the series also somehow doesn’t seem to generate the same kind of reverence as some of its peers from, say, Pixar does.
It’s a shame, because the first two HTTYD movies are beautifully animated masterpieces in storytelling and character development, arguably as good as anything Pixar has produced. Plus, it also has DRAGONS. Some strange and weird looking dragons, sure, but dragons nonetheless.
The first HTTYD introduced us to Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a young Viking in the village of Berk, where dragon-hunting is the main occupation. He then meets Toothless, a rare Night Fury dragon, and the two form a bond that changes the way his people think about dragons in the process.
This carries on to the second movie, in which a teenage Hiccup eventually becomes the chief of Berk after his father’s death, and Toothless becomes the Alpha, or king of dragons.
You’d think that would have been the pinnacle of these two characters’ journey, but The Hidden World manages to find yet another level for them to grow into.
With Hiccup as its chief and Toothless, the Dragon Alpha by his side, Berk has become a sanctuary of sorts of for dragons, and his constant raids of dragon trappers only make the number of dragons in the village swell to almost uncontrollable levels.
When a dangerous threat looms in the form of Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a notorious dragon hunter, Hiccup decides to uproot the entire village, people and dragons and all, and go in search of the ‘Hidden World’, the secret place where dragons come from. But things are never as easy as it seems, especially now that he is the new chief of Berk, and he not only struggles with the burden, but also with his relationship with his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera).
Meanwhile, Toothless meets his own match, literally, when a female Night Fury (or Light Fury) shows up, and now both rider and dragon have to decide what is most important to them, and make a choice for the future.
Instead of using a simple plot device to lurch from one action/comedy set piece to another like many other animated franchises, HTTYD tells a more expansive story about the growth of its two central characters. There’s more to this story than meaningless laughs and mindless action, and there are moments in HTTYD3 that really take your breath away, like that first glimpse you get of the titular Hidden World, and Toothless’ sky high courtship of the Light Fury.
As a standalone film, however, HTTYD3 still falls a little short of the standards set by the original film, no thanks in part to the bloated cast of supporting characters it picked up throughout the first and second movies. Some characters, like Kit Harington’s Eret and Cate Blanchett’s Valka (Hiccup’s mum) seemed like surplus to requirements, while I would have preferred if some of the more annoying supporting characters (like Kristen Wigg’s Ruffnut and T.J. Miller’s Tuffnut) had a little less screentime.
Still, with this film, director Dean DeBlois brings the trilogy to a natural close, tying up all the loose ends not just for Hiccup and Toothless, but for the world they inhabit as well. That makes it a rare beast – an animated franchise that actually knows when to bow out at its peak without giving us the feeling that there might be another sequel in the works (I’m looking at you, Toy Story 4).
So farewell, Toothless and Hiccup – so long, and thanks for the dragons.
How to Train A Dragon: The Hidden World
Director: Dean DeBlois
Voice cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Justin Rupple, Kristen Wiig, F. Murray Abraham