Movie review: 'How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World'
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) is the latest film in the HTTYD series, the first of which came out in 2010 and was followed by a second film in 2014. Now, after a four-and-a-half-year gap, we have a third one, presumably (?) the last, but even if DreamWorks decides to keep the film franchise going, The Hidden World feels like the completion of a trilogy, all of which have involved Dean DeBlois as screenwriter and director.
I'm going to try and avoid major spoilers, so I'll summarize the plot points introduced in the early part of the film. I won't be linking to trailers, because they give away some of the locations and scene gags that are better kept a surprise. I watched a 2D screening, and I haven't kept up with any of the franchise spinoffs or shorts. I'm not a fan of most of the dragon designs or of several secondary characters, but regardless, I've happily enjoyed Hiccup and Toothless' adventures together.
A little time has passed since the events of the second movie. Hiccup is now chief of the Vikings of Berk, and they've been leading raids to free as many captured dragons as possible. Their enemy from the previous film, Drago, is gone, but his secondary captains are still around and want to conquer the world with their huge armada of ships.
Their role in the film is minor, a background threat, and now that dragons are seen as a power-tipping resource, life on the seas is getting a bit complicated. As the dragon-riders of Berk free more dragons and bring them home, Berk is becoming an increasingly important target for anyone interested in conquest, and these are Vikings we're talking about. The island of Berk itself is getting pretty crowded with both its human and dragon populations, and Hiccup's team keeps bringing back more dragons.
Part of the film is about addressing how humans, dragons and power politics are going to work out in the long-term. The antagonist is a dragon hunter named Grimmel, hired by the armada captains to tip things in their favor. Grimmel is a tall, thin, calculating asshole with a vaguely eastern European accent, who fundamentally believes that dragons and humans can't co-exist. This is despite the fact that he keeps some dragons under his control, a breed not seen in the earlier films, nasty and very dangerous. Grimmel suggests that he's responsible for single-handedly wiping out almost all of the Night Fury dragons.
There is, however, at least one female left of the species, which the riders decide to call a Light Fury. She's not albino, she just happens to be white with blue accents. Unlike Toothless, she's quite wild and distrustful of humans. Toothless wants to court her, but has no idea how, as well as dealing with the problem of who he's going to hang out with.
Then of course we have our returning characters. With the death of Hiccup's father (Stoick), Hiccup receives a lot of unsolicited advice from Gobber, his dad's right-hand warrior. Eret, the dragon trapper from the second film, has joined the Vikings of Berk and acts as a source of knowledge and general handy-man. The gang of young dragon-riders is still around, and are mostly unchanged: the twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut, the obese Fishlegs, and of course the very driven Astrid. She and Hiccup are a definite couple, both independently willful, and neither feel ready to get married.
Oh, and there's also the boastful Snotlout, who spends much of the film trying to flirt with Valka, Hiccup's mom. (Ew.) Even though she's a kick-ass warrior and source of useful advice, for much of the film her role is to tell Astrid to go say things to Hiccup when he's wrestling with decisions. This gets repetitive. Snotlout and Tuffnut are also repetitive and have two badly-written modes, "I'm so cool / Heyyy Valka" and "I have manly advice to share / I'm pretending I've grown a beard", respectively.
Anyway, all of these plot points are very obvious from the film's outset, so let the rest of the film remain a surprise. There are two beautiful flying scenes; I regret not watching the film in 3D, I imagine those would've looked even better. The music is good. The animation is good, as is the visual direction. The story beats and writing are pretty standard, no pushing of boundaries. If you liked the first two films, this is doing things at the same level. A difficult choice has to be made towards the end of the film - I don't know if everyone will be happy with it? But the film delivers a sense of closure, and that's important. It made me feel kind of mushy. (Not as strong as the ending to Toy Story 3, but I still had some emotions going on.)
I don't think there's anything at the end of the credits, but at the start of the credits there's a montage of scenes from the earlier films. What else - oh! The riders wear some neat-looking armor made from dragon scales. That's a nice touch. Overall, if you liked the earlier films, go see this one, you won't be disappointed. If you've not watched any of them, they're meant to be experienced as a set.
I can't really offer much more of a review without spoilers, but I'm curious to know what others thought of it. So I'm going to swerve to a different topic - the trailers before the film. I haven't kept up with what 2019's releases are going to be (I'll leave that to 2cross2affliction), and the trailers I saw were:
UglyDolls - A film about stuffed doll rejects trying to find acceptance from a bunch of kids, led by an elistist snob of a boy obsessed with perfection, and, I assume, conformity.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 - The setup appears to be "City pets visit a farm". Max, the main character, is no longer being voiced by Louis C.K., following accusations of sexual misconduct. Now the character is voiced by Patton Oswalt. Ever since Robin Williams, North American animated films usually like to highlight celebrities in their advertizing. The trailer passed over the names really quickly!
Wonder Park - The animation community has given this a shrug. This is a different trailer than what was released a couple of months ago. For the first time, we have a suggestion of a source of conflict - little animal zombies? And the human girl's wacky talking animal sidekicks are a bear, a boar, two beavers, and a porcupine. Noticeably absent is the talking monkey seen in the earlier trailer and in promotional images. Maybe the marketing people felt it was best to avoid it.