Saturday, February 23, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Fans of this franchise have nothing to fear from this new film. Although Third episodes are notoriously underwhelming, The "Dragon" franchise has managed to avoid a blunder as they head to the finish line. "The Hidden World" is as well made as it's predecessors, with the expert talents of Dreamworks Animation team and the director Dean Deblios. The look of these films is consistently amazing, with inventive characters and habitats all colored and detailed like nobody'd business.  The Hidden World of the title turns out to be a relatively minor setting in the bigger picture, but the sequence in which it is featured will be a highlight roll for people's home theaters because it looks spectacular.

The heart of these movies have always been about the relationship of the two main characters and how they have reflected each other in the passage of time. Here is the line from the first movie that defines the theme of these stories. "I looked at him...and I saw myself." From the moment that Hiccup acknowledges this, the pair not only bond but they mature together. Toothless and Hiccup both have to move forward with their destinies in this story, each one committing to a bigger role as the leader of their individual group.. There is also the romantic component which requires them to decide on a future that will include a partner.

The two sequences that will have the audience continuing to be pleased with the looks of the films include a flying courtship sequence between Toothless and the newly introduced "Light Fury". Their trek across a nighttime sky and the use of lightning effects is very beautiful. The second moment is the discovery of the title location. The Hidden World provides a chance for the artists making these movies to show off their color palate and indulge in some creative art design as well. The florescent and neon colors found here will seem familiar to anyone who once had a blacklight poster on their walls. 

Maybe the one drawback to the story is the fact that for a second film in a row, the Dragons and people of Berk are threatened by a dragon hunter with the goal of controlling all of the dragons. It ends up hitting some of the same beats as the second film did, with only some variation in character of the villain, a marvelously Teutonic F. Murray Abraham, and his technique and personal goals. I like the fact that the characters are aging in the film. They don't exactly change their personalities but physically the kids are more mature and the humor stems more from awkward social interaction than physical slapstick (although there is plenty of that still). The parallel stories of Hiccup and Toothless also allow their female counter-parts to have more influence on the story. They may not pass a Bechdel test but they both play major roles in how the story develops.

There is a bit of retconning so as to keep Gerad Butler as Stoic the Vast in the story through flashbacks. It works but it helps if you have not watched the first film immediately before seeing this one. Jay Baruchel continues to be the unlikely voice casting hero of the film. His milquetoast manner of speech and vocal inflections ,that sound adolescent,  are just right for the fledgling leader that Hiccup has to become.  I did find it interesting how fearlessly the movie features the character of Tuffnut when the voice actor from the first two films has been eased out of the role for a variety of reasons. It was not a big deal but I did notice that it had happened.

While I am not sure that a trilogy in this series was necessary, i certainly enjoyed it. It leaves off at a spot that seems to end the need for further films, but it does not foreclose that option entirely. "How to Train Your Dragon The Hidden World" is a satisfying trip to the animated world of dragons and vikings. I think we can dispense with additional dips into the storyline and still feel solid about how complete all of it turned out to be.

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