How to Train Your Dragon The Hidden World movie review: Dear Dreamworks, please don’t make another
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Director - Dean DeBlois
Cast - Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F Murray Abraham, Craig Ferguson, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington
Rating - 3.5/5
It’s a little serendipitous that How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is being released in India in the same week that Disney debuted the first trailer for Toy Story 4. There are several similarities between the two film series, not at all limited to their thematic connections, but also in the more abstract sense - what the films mean to an entire generation that has grown up with them, and more worryingly, what they might become.
I am still contemplating whether or not there is any point in watching Toy Story 4, which is perhaps the most unnecessary sequel ever made in the history of cinema. The risks are simply too large. A childhood (and the reputation of a perfect trilogy) is at stake. I’ve been Jason Bourn-ed before.
Watch the How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World trailer here
How to Train Your Dragon isn’t as precious as the Toy Story movies, but to the children who grew up with it - as I did with Toy Story - it can be. Almost a decade has passed since the first HTTYD, and the legions of 10-year-olds who must’ve dragged their parents to watch it in 2010 are now probably adults - like Hiccup in the film.
This unusually long gap between instalments probably wasn’t what Dreamworks intended, especially in an era when the goal with blockbuster filmmaking seems to be to churn out sequels as quickly as possible, before audiences get distracted. But as it turns out, the delay has been a blessing in disguise, adding unexpected emotional heft to Hiccup and his dragon Toothless’ journey, in a very Antoine Doinel/Before Sunrise/Harry Potter way.
In the Hidden World, Hiccup has cultivated a human-dragon utopia - the only one of its kind - much to the fear and jealousy of a group of warlords, who are paranoid that Hiccup is sitting on too much power. The warlords hire an infamous dragon hunter named Grimmel to capture Toothless, by luring him with a female Night Fury. To evade Grimmel (played by F Murray Abraham, less blood curdlingly terrifying as Djimon Hounsou’s Drago Bludvist from the second film) and the warlords, Hiccup decides to go on a quest to find the Hidden World, about which his late father Stoic used to tell him stories as a child.
What follows is a slighter but enjoyable entry in the series, defined by writer-director Dean DeBlois’ mythic approach, which sets it apart from other Dreamworks franchises.
Dreamworks is in many ways the Marvel to Pixar’s DC - less serious, more reliant on popular stars and more vibrant. Perhaps the biggest indicator of how the times have changed since the first film is in the casting. A decade ago, hiring the biggest names in comedy made all sorts of sense, especially if they were graduates of the Judd Apatow school of success; as Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kristen Wiig were. A decade ago, thanks to Ugly Betty, America Ferrera was huge, Craig Ferguson was killing it on late night TV, and Gerard Butler was poised to become our next great action star.
This movie itself has been years in the making, as is evidenced in the character of Tuffnut, who was originally supposed to be voiced by TJ Miller. Miller’s star had risen considerably in recent years thanks to his role in HBO’s Silicon Valley (hence the expanded role), but recent sexual harassment allegations (not to mention reports of him being a bully on set, and that fake bomb threat that he called in) presumably led to his removal.
The industry as changed, and animation as a medium has changed, but The Hidden World feels like a blast from the past, without ever coming across as outdated. It’s still jaw-droppingly stunning to look at (despite the reduced budget), composer John Powell’s themes are still as iconic as they’ve always been, and there’s a strong undercurrent of animal conservation and pro-immigrant ideas at play.
As it stands, The Hidden World is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. It’s likely, however, that in times of need in the future, Dreamworks might reboot the series for an entirely new generation of fans, forcing us to confront the bittersweet nature of franchise filmmaking. Like Hiccup, we will be forced to make difficult decisions - about moving on, yet never forgetting the past.