Runtime: 104 minutes
Director/writer: Dean DeBlois
Voice Stars: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham, Cate Blanchett
Special Guest Writer: Brian Skutle
All due respect to “Big Hero 6” and “Toy Story 3” & “4,” but the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise going 0-3 in the Best Animated Feature category is one of the greatest mistakes in recent Oscar history. Director Dean DeBlois’s trilogy is not only great entertainment, but powerful emotional storytelling about what it means to grow up, and be responsible for others. 2019’s “The Hidden World” brings this franchise’s ideas full-circle, and delivers what might be one of the most satisfying conclusions to a trilogy in movie history.
One of the things that makes “The Hidden World” so impactful is that it turns Toothless, the Night Fury dragon whom Hiccup shot down, and befriended, in the first film, into a co-lead here. As Hiccup has taken on the mantle of leader from his father, Toothless starts to seem like a pet more than a sentient being with an emotional life of his own. The introduction of the Light Fury gives Toothless an arc of discovery for himself. As much as he loves Hiccup, the Light Fury gives Toothless something to want for himself away from Hiccup; in turn, this also makes Hiccup’s arc about him being able to stand on his own two feet, without Toothless there to back him up.
“Director Dean DeBlois’s trilogy is not only great entertainment, but powerful emotional storytelling about what it means to grow up, and be responsible for others. “
Fantasy has had a hard time catching hold in movies. Even after “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” became phenomenons, the genre has struggled away from those properties. A big part of that has to do with the worldbuilding. In adapting Cressida Cowell’s series to the big screen, DeBlois- and original co-director Chris Sanders- started small, and have exponentially grown from there, all while keeping things grounded. The first film starts with Berk, and simply starts with that village’s long-standing rivalry with dragons as the conflict to be resolved. In the first sequel, we get more of the outside world, as two opposing viewpoints for how to live with dragons- through respect, or through control- challenge Hiccup’s own ideas of how he has taught Berk to live with the creatures.
In “The Hidden World,” we see interesting parallels to Berk in the first first; now that they have learned to live with dragons, and respect them, they are leading the charge to freeing them from people who would do them harm- quite the 180 from what we saw in that opening scene a decade before. Part of that includes realizing that their present circumstances are not sustainable. It’s interesting that the concept of the “Hidden World,” a place where dragons flourish, is introduced to Hiccup by Stoic, and seeing how his views on what to do about it were radicalized after the perceived “death” of Hiccup’s mother. At first, Hiccup sees this as a place where the people of Berk and dragons can live together, but you can see in his eyes, as he’s watching Toothless and the Light Fury with Astrid, that he knows that’s not what needs to happen. Everything he does from that point on is for Toothless’s benefit, not his own; the true mark of a king, and a friend.
I did not expect, when I saw the first film in 2010, that this franchise would mean as much to me as it would. Of course, I didn’t expect to see my own life journey reflected on the screen in 2014 during the second film in the series. In 2013, my father died, leading to added responsibility for myself in making sure everything would be taken care of for my mother. Eight months later, seeing Hiccup have similar responsibility thrust onto him when it comes to the people of Berk transformed my perception of the series from a family franchise I enjoyed as a movie fan to a story that spoke to me deeply as a person. When something like that happens to you as a moviegoer, watching a film becomes more than just an adventure; it becomes a spiritual experience, and you begin not just chasing great films, but moments where cinema touches your heart.