How to Train Your Dragon won the hearts of audiences a near decade ago with gorgeous visuals and a poignant coming of age story. How to Train Your Dragon 2 attempted to continue on the story in 2014, but the film fell a bit short due to pacing issues and an overcrowded cast. The franchise returns for a supposed final chapter in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and you’re probably wondering where the film falls in terms of quality compared to the first two. I’d say that this third entry falls right in between it’s predecessors, as it’s better than the second film but lacks compared to the original.
The Hidden World is a return to the land of Berk and the main characters of Hiccup and Toothless. Berk is overcrowded with a huge dragon population due to Hiccup constantly rescuing dragons from hunters. This leads the island to become worried, causing Hiccup to seek out The Hidden World, a secret dimension where dragons live by the hundreds. Hiccup thinks Berk should move there with all of their new dragons but there’s one problem: The Hidden World has never been found by humans. After a vicious dragon hunter named Grimmel sets his sight on the dragons of Berk, Hiccup and Toothless begin a search for The Hidden World in hopes that it can save their community.
There’s a lot to like about this third installment in the Dragon franchise. For starters, the animation has never looked more incredible. The attention to detail on the part of the animators is outstanding and the colors are dazzling in every sense of the word. Several scenes in this movie took my breath away just from the beauty and scope of the animation in front of me. Mix that with a truly triumphant score and you’ve got yourself a technical wonderland that most animation studios wish they could create.
The characters and the voice cast all come back doing a nice job, though there’s nothing particularly new or special done in this final act of the story. Hiccup is still in the hands of Jay Baruchel, who does just as wonderful a job as he did in the first two films. Toothless is still absurdly adorable even after all of these years. Every time he was on screen he brought a smile to my face. Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple are still standouts as Ruffnut and Tuffnut, delivering huge laughs throughout the majority of the film.
Overall the film is relatively delightful, but for a final chapter in a story that started out so strongly years ago, this ending has some issues. The film really tries to go for some big emotional swings to make you cry and for me they didn’t work. The story takes a turn that is truly emotionally gripping and should really impact the audience by the end of the film. However, there is a final scene that makes the big emotional moment of the film end up meaning far less in retrospect. I feel like the creative team behind the film wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted to hit the audience in the heart with some big emotional twists but they didn’t want anyone leaving the theater sad. This causes them to insert a final scene that basically takes away most of the emotional weight that the film had before the ending. It comes across as emotionally manipulative and ultimately hurts the trilogy’s character arcs as a whole.
Despite being an improvement on the second film, this movie has some pacing issues as well. I will say, the first act of the film feels really well paced. Somewhere in the second act however, the pacing starts to feel a bit rushed. The story relating to the villain felt particularly rushed, especially by the third act. These pacing issues made a lot of the film’s ending moments feel a bit anticlimactic. The climax of the film definitely felt too rushed and too easy for the main characters to power through. It saddens me that this film couldn’t recapture the perfect pacing that the first film had.
Overall, I did like the final installment in this beloved trilogy. I really did have a good time sitting in the theater seeing Hiccup and Toothless together onscreen again. I just wish that the delight of seeing characters I love could have been met with a wholly satisfying emotional conclusion to the story. Instead, I got a fun time at the movies, but a film that won’t impact me beyond having to write this review. How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a technical marvel and is fun, but it is an ending that left me wishing for a bit more emotional satisfaction.