Movie Review: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”

I think I’m a little late to the party here, but I have some thoughts about this movie, so I thought I’d give it a go anyways.

Before we get started, I want to say that I’ve been a fan of the How To Train Your Dragon series, if not from the very beginning, then for a very long time. I’ve seen the first movie upwards of fifty times and the second one somewhere in that same ballpark. The characters, the plot, the music…none of it gets old for me. I also read the books (after I saw the first movie, but hey, give me a break here) and so I’ve got a really good perspective on the feel of the story and the world, as well as the differences between what we read on the page and what we see on the screen.

That being said, I was a little apprehensive about the third and final installment to the franchise, which is why it took me so long to gut up enough courage to go and see it in theaters. And I had my reasons.

The first was personal. I loved the series. I loved Hiccup and Toothless and all their adventures. I didn’t want it to be over, and I didn’t want their stories to be completely botched by the conclusion of the films, and what I’d heard about it didn’t give me any comfort. Any time someone throws in a love interest as the main plot of a story, I get a little nervous.

Seeing the movie, I understand now that my nervousness was just the effect of bad marketing. Although the relationships in the story are explored more deeply than in previous installments, they do not overshadow the driving force in the story, which, I think, is important. I’m a sucker for a good love story, I admit – but that’s the thing: it has to be a GOOD one. Not just one you insert in order to get butts in seats.

So can I say that I was pleasantly surprised by this movie? Yes, yes I can. Here’s why.

1. It was downright beautiful.

The animation was possibly the most beautiful work I’ve seen yet. As a filmmaker, I’m exposed to all kinds of media all the time, and I can say that what they’re doing at Dreamworks is really that: a dream. Not only was immersive and realistic (I won’t even go into the detail in each character’s hair) it was completely stunning. I don’t think I blinked through the whole feature.

But, what I appreciated the most about its visual aspect, is that the editorial staff in charge of making this movie didn’t rely on the visual to sell it. The visual and audio qualities both worked together to enhance the story, without crippling it in any regard. This is difficult to do even in live-action films, and I’ve come across it many times in my own filmmaking experience. Let me tell you: THIS IS HARD TO ACCOMPLISH.

Bravo for Dreamworks, the animators, and everyone else who worked so hard on this picture.

2. The story was compelling.

Here was my biggest concern.

Although the previews showed some of the more thrilling aspects of the movie (like the visual component, aforementioned) I was wary that since it was such a stunning feature, it would be lacking in other areas.

I was wrong.

I thought that this movie was going to be about Toothless finding love and some kind of dragon/human war, like the previous installments. And while that was certainly a part of it, that wasn’t the main plot. I’d like to have a word with the advertising staff on this one. You shouldn’t reveal the whole story in a trailer – and please don’t, it’s annoying – but give me a little bit more. How is it that your biggest fan didn’t even want to show up to the screening? Yeah, I’ll probably talk about that another time.

Back to business.

The plot was a lot more complex than I’d expected, and like every other installment in the series, it drew me in deeper to the world and made me feel as though I was experiencing it with the characters. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but I want to point out that if you think it’s going to be boring, you’re wrong. Go watch it somewhere. You won’t be disappointed.

3. It wasn’t too long.

It was Alfred Hitchcock who noted that (and I’m paraphrasing) you shouldn’t make a movie any longer than a person can hold their bladder. Most directors ignore this these days, and I hate it. It’s absolutely miserable when you’re sitting in a movie theater, and the movie’s gone on for 2+ hours, and you want to be invested but all you can think about is running to the potty. And if you do get up to run to the potty, you usually have to climb over people, and you end up missing part of the movie.

Some people don’t mind this.

But this kills me.

So whenever I watch a movie that doesn’t extend through most of my lifetime, I’m relieved. This movie did that for me.

It wasn’t short, per se, but it wasn’t so long that I was twiddling my thumbs and planning my strategic beeline for the bathroom as soon as the lights went up. That, believe it or not, is one of the things I liked best about it.

4. The ending was NOT what I expected.

There are already so many sad things in the world. Why make up something sad to add to it?

This was, really, the thing which kept me from seeing the movie for the longest time. I didn’t want to know the ending, because I was pretty sure it was going to be horrible and that I was going to cry like a baby.

I did, actually, cry like a baby, but they were happy/nostalgic tears, instead of “you just ripped my heart out and then kicked me in the head” tears.

I guess there’s a bit of an unexpected plot twist…and if you haven’t yet seen it, I suggest finding a way to do so, because I’m not going to tell you what it is.

And the negatives…

There are only a few things about the film which I really didn’t like, and I’ll sum them up as quickly as I can. The first is that I thought the bad guy was a bit…distant from the film. He was a bad guy, and he fit the bill, but he didn’t really fill me with any kind of dread. It was more like he was dancing around in the background, causing trouble while Hiccup finds himself. I feel like he could’ve been made a bigger deal.

Also, I’ve been a fan of John Powell and Jonsi since the very beginning, and the work they’ve done for the franchise has been phenomenal. That being said, I felt a little let down by the music in the final film. I liked it – but it was nowhere near the epic feel of the second film, and only vaguely echoed the first film, in my opinion.

Last but not least…Hiccup’s beard.

I understand why they gave Hiccup a beard. I understand that a lot of people like it. I understand that he’s a Viking and Vikings have beards. And I’m outnumbered in thinking that it’s…weird. But hey, we’re allowed to think what we want, right? And for a few short sequences, I guess it doesn’t…completely…destroy the entire film.

That’s all for now!

Make sure to tell me your thoughts about this movie! What should I watch next? I can’t wait to hear from you!

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