The third part of any film franchise presents quite the challenge. One has to feel for what the filmmakers were up against in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD.  Make it too similar to the previous two installments and people wonder why they bothered to pay for a rehash. Too different and moviegoers question why they would see a movie so different from the ones they liked. When it works though, boy does it work. THOR: RAGNAROK may be the best of the series. BATMAN FOREVER remains the hidden gem of the Burton/Schumacher years. IRON MAN 3, as I have said many times, is the best IRON MAN. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3 rejuvenated the franchise and created a new paradigm that propelled future installments forward.

So what kind of threequel is THE HIDDEN WORLD? An INDIAN JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE? Or more of a TAKEN 3?

The Hidden World: Glimpse the future
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) gets himself a playoff beard in a scene from THE HIDDEN WORLD. Toothless wisely does not go in for that nonsense. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The Idea Behind THE HIDDEN WORLD

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has assumed his father’s role as leader of their Viking tribe and turned his nation of Berk into a dragon sanctuary. It may not be a utopia — there are far too many beasts and humans in one place for everyone to live comfortably — but it seems to be the one place on Earth where dragons can live without being hunted or turned into slave labor. Still, the overpopulation has become an increasingly obvious problem.

Forcing the issue further is the dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), the man who apparently stands responsible for reducing the Night Fury population to Toothless and a newly discovered all white female version of the species. He has been hired by an alliance of barbarians from several nations who wish to utilize the dragons for military offensives. Grimmel will get them their dragons, he promises, but he has no intention of truly turning over Toothless in the deal.

Hiccup, seizing upon his father’s tales of a Hidden World where all dragons come from, decides that the world holds the key to both the Vikings’ and the dragons’ survival. They strike out to find the place, which very well may be mystical, with Grimmel close behind, convinced they are playing right into his hands.

The Hidden World: Night and Light
Toothless makes eyes at his new crush. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Writing THE HIDDEN WORLD

THE HIDDEN WORLD goes the route that many threequels seem to, focusing on maturation and separation as dominant themes. In this case, it involves specifically the evolution of Hiccup and Toothless’s relationship in light of the “Light Fury” (Bright Fury was a better name, for the record). More generally, it connects to the need for Berk to give up their land or their dragons or, perhaps, both.

The whole thing feels muddled. Hiccup and Toothless have always had an owner/pet relationship. Or perhaps you would say they had a friendship which, honestly, feels more accurate to me. However, here it reads more like a father-son dynamic. Thus, the whole thing feels like their previous relationship has been cast aside in favor of one that better fits the theme the writers want to explore.

That said, it remains emotionally effective. Some might say emotionally manipulative, and I think they might have a point, but it worked well on me. So if it was manipulative, please manipulate away.

The writing does struggle when it comes to the supporting players. With Hiccup being forced towards maturation, the fact that everyone else remains largely locked in their first film personality feels all the more obvious. I understand most of them are intended as little more than comedic distraction, but do we need five unevolved characters for that? More grievous, though, is Astrid (America Ferrera) who felt so dynamic in the first movie and now mostly just watches Hiccup fret until his mom (Cate Blanchett) urges her to go talk to him.

The Hidden World: Grimmel
Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) struts it out with one of his pets in THE HIDDEN WORLD. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Casting The Callsheet

As lampshaded in the script, Hiccup has grown and matured while Jay Baruchel’s voice largely has not. That is the downside of having a grown man voice a teen. If you plan to have the teen grow to adulthood over the course of future adventures, the voice will stick out as unchanged. It is a good performance from an emotional standpoint, but it is hard to ignore how young Hiccup still sounds despite every other sign telling us he is now an adult and monarch.

I love the vaguely Eastern European, purring accent Abraham gives Grimmel. It’s like Jeremy Irons meets Christoph Waltz, and it is just wonderful. The villain is kind of a rehash of last film’s baddie, but Abraham made him so charismatic I never minded. I would have loved a bit more Grimmel in place of the comedic relief, truth be told.

Speaking of the comedic relief, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristin Wiig, and Justin Rupple (subbing for the radioactive T.J. Miller here) do well with what they are asked. I’m just a little tired of the same note they keep being asked to play.

The Hidden World: Berk's people
The denizens of Berk fly in search of THE HIDDEN WORLD. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Animating THE HIDDEN WORLD

Like its predecessors, THE HIDDEN WORLD is beautiful to look at. Unlike the issues with the voice I raised above, the art wonderfully ages its characters in ways that keep them looking recognizable while depicting the passage of time.

It also does some wonderful little things I really appreciated. For instance, Toothless continues to have square pupils which fit with his somewhat amphibian-like head and tongue. Additionally, his eyes are a shade of green like Hiccup’s eyes. Similarly, the Light Fury’s eyes (again, Bright was better) are a shade of blue like Astrid’s. It is one of those things they did not need to do. However, it is great they took the time to.

The varietals of dragons also continue to impress. It is not just the variety of looks. Rather, it is an appreciation of the details. Note how much effort goes into the different ways they look flying, landing, fighting, and so on. Again, it is all about care and the team here obviously really does care.

The Hidden World: Tiny gold dragons
Astrid (America Ferrera) and Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) marvel at baby dragons in a scene from THE HIDDEN WORLD. Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

That’s a Wrap!

While a much milder recommendation that the two previous HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON films, THE HIDDEN WORLD still gets a recommendation from me. I am a sucker for themes of maturation and the sacrifices we sometimes need to make to reach our full potential. Or to enable those we love to do the same.

Honestly, if the movie just consisted of the film’s epilogue, I probably would be screaming for everyone to attend. However, preceding it is about a hundred minutes of beautiful but uneven content. So a mild recommend it is.

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