Closing the trilogy of crude yet heartfelt animated films aimed at young adults, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a fun and fitting end to the series. After nearly a full decade since the original film was released, The Hidden World aims to wrap a bow on the characters and relationships built over three movies. With some of DreamWorks Animation’s most impressive work on display and yet another enchanting soundtrack by John Powell, not even a lackluster villain and occasionally inconsistent plot can keep this film from soaring.
Set one year after the previous film and six years after the original, the now 21-year-old Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is the Viking chief of the island Berk, a home to both humans and dragons. Grappling with his new responsibilities as a leader following the death of his chieftain father Stoick (Gerard Butler) in the previous film, Hiccup attempts to deal with overpopulation concerns by searching for the titular Hidden World, where dragons and people could live freely. The urgency of finding that hidden world grows as the new villain Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) tries to hunt down Toothless, the last of the Night Furies, as well as the rest of Berk’s dragons.
The plot specific to The Hidden World is a bit of a mess, but ultimately isn’t the film’s main focus. Grimmel is an instantly forgettable and somewhat confusing villain, seeming to only want to hunt Night Furies because that’s what he enjoys. There are other warlords who also hunt dragons, but they’re hardly worth mentioning.
Fortunately, the movie-specific plot is used as little more than a vehicle for the characters to interact. Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) are in a committed romantic relationship, which The Hidden World focuses on much more than its prior film. The two seem genuinely happy to be around each other in a mature and realistic way. It’s a healthy, non-dramatized relationship that is sorely missing from more movies aimed at young adults.
Despite thinking he was the last of his kind, Toothless, Hiccup’s dragon, also finds love in the form of a Light Fury, the female counterpart to Night Furies. Their romance will likely be the most exciting to younger viewers, as Toothless bends over backward to impress her while looking like a goofball. Nonetheless, their relationship is also adorable and leads into Toothless learning to take responsibility as a leader, paralleling some of Hiccup’s development.
It’s the supporting cast that supplies How to Train Your Dragon with most of its humor, and The Hidden World has its fair share, although perhaps not as much as prior entries in the series. The Thorston twins in particular, Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), are hilarious with their inflated confidence and flirtations with other characters. Ruffnut in particular has a scene that may be the funniest of the series.
Powell has returned for a third time to compose the movie’s soundtrack, which is easily the highlight, not just of The Hidden World, of the entire trilogy. Ranging from somber to playful to passionately energetic, Powell’s music is what makes the series soar, and The Hidden World may contain some of his best work yet.
Although DreamWorks Animation has never had animation quite as impressive as their Disney or Pixar competitors, The Hidden World is nonetheless one of its most technically stunning films yet. The characters, dragons and environments maintain their soft, fleshy stylization, but now with more detail and expression than ever before. The fight and flight choreography is also tightly directed. The animation is a modest but noticeable upgrade from its predecessor, and the improvement in animation quality since the first film shows just how far animation has come within the past decade.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a fitting and emotionally heartfelt end to a beloved series, giving both human and dragon characters the closure they needed. However, the film lacks much of its emotional resonance if viewers haven’t grown up with Berk’s characters since Hiccup trained his first dragon in 2010. In and of itself, the film falls flat without an interesting villain or fulfilling story. But as a faithful send-off to one of DreamWorks Animation’s best series to date, The Hidden World succeeds with flying colors.