“There used to be dragons here when I was a boy”. I love the original HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. The sequel was even better. THE HIDDEN WORLD had a lot to live up to, not least getting us to the moment when that iconic closing statement is made. Does it deliver? Almost.
Young dragon- rider Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has been chieftain of his Viking tribe for a year, transforming the village of Berk into a paradise for his people and their dragons. But when a new threat emerges, it becomes clear that dragons will never be safe among humans and the search for the Hidden World where dragonkind came from begins.
Hiccup has remained a relatable and grounded unlikely hero to build the series around, brilliant and good-hearted but with many doubts and a physical disability to navigate. He becomes a man in the third and final part of his story through making some of the most difficult choices imaginable. I was reminded of that great line from Marlon Brando in SUPERMAN, “The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son” as, affectingly, Hiccup has to become more than a friend but also a surrogate parent to Toothless as his scaly companion belatedly enters adolescence. Toothless has severe arrested development from being supposedly the last of his species and living with humans for so long, and when his potential mate appears without warning he has no way of knowing how dragons are supposed to navigate this part of their lives. Copying a gawky teenager miming what he thinks a dragon courtship dance might look like probably isn’t the best way to impress.
It’s great that all the supporting players are given an important role in the story, not to mention everyone having cool bespoke dragon scale armour now. This also helps reinforce the bond between the dragons and their riders, that they are becoming one and the same. Astrid (America Ferrera) and Tuffnut’s (Justin Rupple doing a TJ Miller impression) parts in particular are boosted, with Astrid becoming Hiccup’s no-nonsense rock and Tuffnut providing most of the light relief. New foe Grimmel (F Murray Abraham, sprightly-sounding for a man of 80) represents all of humanity’s worst traits – cruelty, greed, pettiness and intolerance – and tests all of our heroes to their limit.
The action is spectacular and makes me wish this is the kind of fantasy creature spectacle we’d get in the FANTASTIC BEASTS sequels. From the tense peril of the baddie’s enslaved, acid-spewing nightmares chasing our heroes up a burning tower to the more serene but no less eye-popping flight through the subterranean bioluminescent caverns where the wild dragons dwell, all the money and imagination is certainly put up there on screen. I did admittedly miss John Powell’s more Celtic-influenced score from the previous movies to accompany the visuals; his latest effort is more a generic fantasy blockbuster sort of affair.
Last time we were asked to question whether you could ever truly tame nature, but this time it is the dragons have to go far away to protect them from us. Whether the collateral damage is caused intentionally by Grimmel and his hunters or accidentally by Hiccup and the Vikings of Berk, we really don’t come out of this well as a species. We have ruined the dragons’ world and any realistic chance of them living in harmony with us for many lifetimes.
The Hidden World is a well-conceived, visually dazzling final chapter to Hiccup and Toothless’s story with some soaring story beats, but I did still find myself missing the thematic depth and the darkness of the last instalment. It’s very much an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK vs RETURN OF THE JEDI type of situation. Director Dean DeBlois slightly disappointingly ends on a bittersweet (emphasis on the sweet) note rather than a truly tragic one, but he’s probably not as cynical as me. Regardless, this has been one Hel of a ride and I’ll really miss these characters. SSP