Review: 'Hidden World' brings 'Dragon' franchise full circle
Courtesy of Universal/Dreamworks Animation
In the near decade that’s spanned since 2010’s emotional stunner “How To Train Your Dragon,” there have been countless animated sequels and reboots that feel made for financial purposes. Try as PIXAR might, their numerous sequels (specifically “Cars 2,” “Cars 3,” or “Finding Dory”) seem to lose touch with their initial coda (all eyes will be looking at the forthcoming “Toy Story 4” as another comparison). I say this because none of those sequels come close to the full scope of what the epic “How To Train Your Dragon” universe has created, with the latest entry “Hidden World” solidifying it as not only the best Dreamworks Animation franchise, but it represents one of the finest animation character arcs ever.
Granted, “Hidden World” wasn’t made as a charity contribution, since Dreamworks has been acquired by Comcast, the giant tech mogul has touted plans to revamp the animation houses entire catalogue (including “Shrek” which supposedly had its last film in 2010) to milk their properties. However, the “Dragon” franchise has always been made with integrity and the trilogy capping “Hidden World” doesn’t change that.
Take for example the main character Hiccup (once animated to resemble the frail and scraggly actor voicing him Jay Baruchel). Hiccup used to resemble an awkward teen without any sense of direction and hid in fear of the once forbidden Dragons who tormented his Viking homestay called Burke. But in the time since, Hiccup has grown into a confident and chiseled leader walking around with a flaming sword (which is basically this series version of a lightsaber) - the one actor who immediately comes to mind is John Krasinski; look at how far he’s come since his early “The Office” days and apply that same principle to Hiccup.
While characters have come and gone throughout our times in “Dragon” and “Dragon 2” one such creature has remained constant: the bat winged stallion Toothless, a rare dragon species called Night Fury who is easily the most adorable thing on the planet. He prances around like your favorite canine companion (director Dean Deblois must love dogs) and “Hidden World” finally brings his story full circle. Long believed to be the last of his kind, this adventure explores a new friend for Toothless, his female counterpart who Hiccup’s love interest Astrid (America Ferrera) dubs “Light Fury.” Their love triangle would be enough to sustain its own narrative, with scenes that feature no dialogue, but showcases the two courting and flirting with each other in fun and heartwarming advances. Keeping with the theme of matrimony, Astrid and Hiccup are dealing with their own commitment issues.
Since “How To Train Your Dragon” real antagonists were the dragons, the subsequent follow ups have felt the need to introduce one-dimensional human baddies whose only purpose is to, well, hunt and kill dragons. In “Dragon 2” it was “the greatest dragon hunter of all time” Drago Bludvist, who was convincing and proved a worthy foe for Hiccup and the gang, and in “Hidden World” it’s ruthless dragon killer Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) taking on the role. Abraham's Grimmel doesn’t buck the trend for this franchises tendency of introducing villains for posterity, but he does add a grown-up element to this otherwise kid friendly adventure. Of course, he drops the line: “You’ve never seen anything like me” and comes (too easily I might add) equipped with a dragon controlling serum, except the voicework rivals some of Disney’s more iconic villains. So even if Grimmels presences feels like a blemish, “Hidden World” still finds ways of packing the right emotional punch.
Regardless of the villain arch not feeling as complete, “Hidden World’s” main agenda involves Hiccup and his crew - most notably: his dragon-saving mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), the local Viking blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson - hilarious), the egotistical Snotlout (Jonah Hill), the newly bearded Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and the twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple - replacing TJ Miller) - tracking down an ancient world said to be the dragon epicenter of the universe. Hiccups late father Stoick (voiced in flashbacks by Gerard Butler) was determined to find the coveted Hidden World, and with Hiccup and company rescuing dragons all across the globe at steady inclines, real estate in Burke is getting tight. Dragons are literally taking over.
This charts our heroes on a rousing path to locate the secluded myth, and once they find the titular utopia, it represents the best sequence in the film. Coming to life in fuzzy focus not too far removed from the expanding world of Pandora in “Avatar” - this glossy and intoxicating neon colored world highlights Dreamworks at their most optimal, and it’s all the more sad when our time spent there is short lived.
No matter, because by the time we reach the closing credits - if you’re like me - you’ll already be reaching for the tissues. “Hidden World” concludes this series with a polished emotional resonance, and complements the themes of loss, loyalty, and bravery exemplified in prior installments. I only hope the series stays closed on a high note, and doesn’t become a pawn in a studios obsessive need to reboot franchises for monetary gain. Toothless deserves better.