When Hiccup discovers Toothless isn’t the only Night Fury, he must seek “The Hidden World,” a secret Dragon Utopia before a hired tyrant named Grimmel finds it first. (from IMDb)
It’s hard to believe it’s already been almost a decade since DreamWorks Animation delivered the first the How To Train Your Dragon film. The movie was an adaptation of a beloved childrens’ book and it proved to be tailor-made for the big screen treatment. Immediately upon the success of the first film, director Dean DeBlois was tasked with writing the script for the next installment in the story of Hiccup and his best friend, a Night Fury dragon he named Toothless. By the end of 2010, DeBlois had completed his script for How To Train Your Dragon 2, setting it up to be the second part in a trilogy of movies. Even nine years ago, the plan was in place to make three films (as evidenced on a documentary that was released with the second film). After How To Train Your Dragon 2 debuted in 2014, furthering the adventures of the people of Berk, a couple TV series based on the films were created, giving the characters dragon-seeking adventures that bridged the gap between the first two films. Five years had passed between the events of those two films, and the 15-year-old scrawny kid we had been introduced to in 2010 was now entering his twenties. In 2019, the final chapter, titled How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is here, opening the story one year after the events that took place in How To Train Your Dragon 2, and it’s time to bid farewell to these lovable characters.
Revisiting the films before seeing The Hidden World, I was reminded just how wonderful these movies really are. It’s unusual to watch animated characters grow up before your very eyes, but that’s just what DreamWorks has done with Hiccup and his friends, and it’s really neat to see. It also ups the emotional aspect of the stories, because anyone who became a fan with the first film has been growing along with them. The series has also seen its share of gain and loss. The first film established that Hiccup had lost his mother while he was still a baby, and the second film showed us that Valka was not only still alive, but she was very much a dragon whisperer like her son. Unfortunately, just as soon as Hiccup and his father, Stoic, had gotten Valka back in their little family, Stoic dies while protecting Hiccup. DeBlois knows how to emotionally charge these films, and each one truly pulls at the heartstrings. This final installment is certainly no different, and if you’ve ever experienced moist eyes from one of these films, you can rest assured you’ll be moved while watching The Hidden World.
While it’s only a year that’s passed this time around, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World continues to show that much has changed in the year following Stoic’s death. Hiccup is chief of Berk, and still learning what that means, while Toothless is officially the alpha of all dragons. Both have become the leaders of their respective species, so to speak. But when a new threat, Grimmel, who had worked alongside the previous film’s villain, Drago, appears, the very way of life for all of those on Berk is threatened. Grimmel’s main sinister motivation, however, is to hunt and kill Toothless, as he’s made it his goal to rid the world of Night Furies. In his possession, mysteriously, is the lone female Night Fury, a white one–which Astrid dubs a Light Fury. It’s Grimmel’s intentions from the start to use the Light Fury to lure and entrap Toothless–and her charms instantly win him over.
While these films have always had comedic aspects–usually provided by Hiccup’s friends and sometimes Hiccup himself, things are far more serious this time around. Sure there’s plenty of comedy stemming from his friends (particularly Ruffnut in one of the film’s most brilliant moments), but The Hidden World is overall darker than the previous entries. Everything changes here, but the bond of friendship between all of the characters–while tested at times–remains its greatest strength and brightest light. Grimmel, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, is a fantastic villain, and a scary foil for Hiccup. A great deal is on the line for our hero–a child who we’ve watched become a man over the years–and we feel the struggle he goes through here. The emotional weight of the story is not only its strength, but also kind of its weakness. The first film is entirely triumphant and enjoyable, while the second film is bittersweet due to the loss of Stoic. The Hidden World is probably even more so a reality check. It’s a reminder that things in life have to change, paths separate, and while things can still be wonderful in our life as we grow, there’s pain that inevitably comes with it. The Hidden World pierces the heart, and that makes it a weightier experience overall.
I can’t talk about the film too much without divulging more plot specifics (if you want tons of spoilers, you’ll have to check out my conversation with Chase on episode 58 of the JFH Podcast about this movie), but there’s a lot for fans to process after seeing The Hidden World. I’d definitely like to see it again before deciding how it ranks with the previous entries. It surely works as a satisfying conclusion to the series, though. [Moderate plot spoiler warning next] One minor complaint–and I hesitate to even describe it as such–is that I was surprised to learn that the meeting of Toothless with the Light Fury was a manipulation by the villain. I think the mystery of her intentions (i.e. the puppeteering that may potentially be there) robs their interactions and romance of the fullest extent of the joy that I think is meant to be there. The whole time, you kind of worry about what’s going to happen, and you worry about the affect it’ll have on Toothless and Hiccup. (That’s something I wonder how will play differently with a second viewing.)
Visually, The Hidden World is a beautiful film. While revisiting the previous two films, I was surprised at how dated the first film looked when compared to today’s quality of animation. Even How To Train Your Dragon 2, just four years after the first one, was closer to today’s standards. How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World looks even more incredible–from the fine sand that Toothless goes frolicking in, to the fire effects or luminous land of the Hidden World; it’s lovely. The characters are even more expressive here.
The content is in line with the rest of the series. There’s a lot of action violence this time–maybe even more than before–as the vikings of Berk battle the vikings who want to trap the dragons, but it’s seldom fatal. The opening scene shows Hiccup and his friends as sort of a rescue team to free the dragons caged on a ship, while the climax of the film is a battle on a grander scale. There isn’t anything gory or graphic shown, but Grimmel’s menacing presence will surely scare some younger viewers. He also has a couple fearsome dragons of his own that spit hot, fiery green napalm that threatens our heroes a few times. There’s no language in the film aside from the usual viking take on religious exclamations, so there’s stuff like “For Thor’s sake” or “Oh my gods” that fits the context of this world, but could be offensive to some viewers.
Goodbyes aren’t easy, and the geniuses behind the How To Train Your Dragon franchise make the fans feel this one. If you’ve loved anything about this series, you’ll enjoy The Hidden World. It’s exciting, fun, and also pulls at the heartstrings. While three films feels fitting for this series, as not to wear out its welcome, it’s still tough to bid farewell to characters we’ve come to love over the past 9 years. Definitely go see The Hidden World — just don’t forget to bring tissues.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/24/19)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is available on 4K/Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital, DVD, and through the usual digital providers. Along with the feature film, the Blu-Ray disc includes the following extras:Alternate Opening – For the first feature, there is an unused, alternate opening to the film that you can watch here with an intro drom director Dean DeBlois (4:17), or without the intro (3:21). In the scene, Hiccup discovers a large dragon in a cave and it chases him, catches him and tosses him around. Toothless steps in and uses his alpha male status to save Hiccup.
Dreamworks Shorts – There are two animated short films included here (like Pixar would do). The first, titled “Bilby” (8:01), is a beautifully animated short where a jackrabbit named Bilby is gathering food in the desert and ends up saving a baby albatross from lots of different predators and dangers – everything from a swarm of spiders to snakes, scorpions, and a hawk. The second one, “Bird Karma” (4:47), is a really weird and dark story about a crane-type bird in a swamp dancing to an eastern style of music. He then chases fish to try to catch and eat them. He dances with one that is colorful and magical, but ends up eating it… which kills him. The remaining fish then feast on his body as it sinks in the water. While not graphic, it’s rather morbid and kind of disturbing.
Deleted Scenes – There are five deleted scenes, available to watch with (12:49) or without (9:26) introductions from director Dean DeBlois. The first one is “Automatic Tail,” which features almost finished, previsualization animation for a slow motion montage of Hiccup making the new tail for Toothless. Dean says here that the team just felt it was too long and not necessary to show. The rest of these are presented as animated storyboards with voices set to them. “Protector vs Captor” features Hiccup showing Toothless his new living space for him and the light fury at New Berk. His mom, Valka, tries to convince him they need to set the dragons free. “Spy Mission” is Valka and Astrid talking about marriage (Astrid with Hiccup) while flying on dragons. “Mind Before the Sword” is a flashback of Stoic playing a game with Hiccup where he teaches him a lesson. Lastly, “Your Responsibility” is another Stoic flashback that DeBlois says they felt was too “on the nose,” so they cut it. In it, Stoic and Hiccup find a hurt bird and Stoic encourages him to take care of the bird till it’s ready to fly away (which parallels what will one day be Hiccup’s relationship with Toothless).
Brave Wilderness Presents: Nature + Dragons = Awesome (7:53) – There are two videos here that you can watch separately. “Birds and Bats are Awesome” (3:36) is the first one. The host of the Brave Wilderness YouTube channel introduces these for some reason. Then the film crew for Hidden World talk about looking at birds and studying their flight in order to try to make the dragons seem more real. “Animal + Animal = Dragon” (4:17) talks about how the crew mixed animals together to create the different dragons. For example, Toothless is the mix of a black panther and a salamander. And the Light Fury is like a lioness.
The Dragon Sheep Chronicles (2:41) are two videos centered on the sheep that live in the Berk community. “Friend vs Food” (1:22) is narrated by Hiccup who talks about how they disguised the sheep to keep the dragons from eating them. “The Secret Sheep Society” (1:19) is the sheep baa-ing with subtitles as they talk about how they can escape Berk.
How to Voice Your Viking (1:35) – This criminally short featurette shows the cast in the studio recording some lines. It’s still a lot of fun to see, though.
Creating an Epic Dragon Tale (4:27) features the crew talking about wrapping up the series, how the love story is where the movie comes together, and that it’s such an emotional conclusion to the saga.
How I Learned from Dragons (3:43) features the cast reflecting on 10 years of these movies and wrapping up the series.
A Deck of Dragons (3:30) – Fishlegs gives a profile for four new dragons introduced in this movie: the goregutter, hobgobblers, light fury, and baby nightlights.
Growing Up with Dragons 3:35 – Jay Baruchel, the voice for Hiccup, talks about spending 10 years on the character and how much he can relate to him. Other cast members talk about working with director Dean DeBlois with developing their characters over time. Dean talks about how the original book opens with an old Hiccup talking about how the dragons existed when he was a boy, which inspired the direction of this series.
The Evolving Character Design of Dragons (3:20) focuses on the changes in the characters growing up through the series, and how Hiccup’s eyes don’t change, even as he grows into an adult.
Drawing Dragons (3:10) – Here, the crew talk about trying to design dragons differently from what we already know, and how they drew inspirations directly from the books.
Epic Villain (1:45) is all about Grimmel and how he’s a more intelligent villain for the series. We even briefly see some footage of actor F. Murray Abraham in the studio!
Astrid’s Whole Dragon Trilogy in 60 Seconds (1:10) – Yup, she sums up the series rather quickly.
Welcome to New Berk (2:14) – Here, Hiccup describes their new home in detail.
Feature Commentary (1:44:06) – For those wanting to dive deeper into the making of the film, you can listen to this feature commentary track with writer/director Dean DeBlois, producer Bradford Lewis and head of character animation, Simon Otto.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/13/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Snotlout flirts with Valka in a few scenes, but obviously she doesn’t flirt back; Tuffnut tries giving Hiccup dating advice but is clueless; The Night Furies do mating dances (and, at one point, Toothless looks at other dragons doing mating dances or flirting and realizes he misses the Light Fury)
Vulgarity/Language: About for uses of “gods” as exclamation (like “Oh my gods”).
Alcohol/Drugs: We see some partying in a dining hall and, although it’s not focused on, there is probably beer drinking and the like.
Violence: Lots of action violence; The opening scene shows Hiccup and his friends rescuing dragons from cages on viking ships, and they end up punching, kicking, and knocking out vikings in the process; Grimmel shoots a dragon with a crossbow, rendering it unconscious; Grimmel talks about his goals to rid the earth of all Night Furies; Grimmel shoots a sleeping Toothless with a dart (which turns out not to be him), and uses his Dragon-Killers to burn down Hiccup’s home. Hiccup then opens the door to his home to find a lot of the town is burning; Grimmel cages some of our heroes who narrowly escape the flaming napalm of the Dragon-Killers; Some dragons are hit with darts and subdued, then caged; Some dragons overwhelm and pile on Toothless who electrifies himself, sending his attackers falling out of the sky; A large battle takes place when Hiccup and his friends attack some viking ships that have held dragons captive. Again, vikings are hit, punched, and thrown about–sometimes in a comical way; Two characters fall through the air from a great height, presumably to their deaths, but one is rescued at the last second. We assume the other perishes since we never see them again; and other animated adventure violence.