This year another great trilogy can be added to the noble pantheon of great movie trilogies: the How To Train Your Dragon series. Writer/director Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch) has crafted the only truly masterful set of films for Dreamworks Animation. And unfortunately, like most great trilogies (with the arguable exception of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), the third film is the weakest. Thankfully, the other films set such a high bar that being the least among them still makes for a great film.
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World starts a year after the events of the second film where Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is now chief of Berk and considers his and his village’s main mission to be a dragon rescuer/haven. Berk has become overcrowded with all the dragons they have domesticated and saved over the years. All of this is complicated even further when the villages that the dragons were saved from want revenge and end up hiring a fabled dragon hunter to get all their dragons back. The Berkians’ fear of this dragon hunter forces them to exodus their home and find a final resting place for them and their dragons.
The structure of the plot is an odd mix of The Dark Knight and War for the Planet of the Apes. Yet it works. It also utilizes flashbacks in order to bring back Girard Butler’s Stoic (Hiccup’s father), who had died in the previous film, and to introduce the concept of the Hidden World. The Hidden World is a mythical place where dragons all seem to come from and becomes the McGuffin for Hiccup and his dragon, Toothless. This culminates in swashbuckling and emotional third act, which is the best part of the film. I teared up multiple times to the point that my daughters asked if I was alright.
If I was to say that the film has a weakness, it is that it relies too much on its humor. The 2nd movie scaled back the goofy slapstick compared to the first one and then brought it back for this installment. It worked in the first one better, probably because the main characters were were mostly children. However, the first one was co-directed/co-written by Chris Sanders (who also co-wrote and co-directed Lilo and Stitch with DeBlois) and it seems he was able to balance the comedic tone a bit better than DeBlois is by himself.
The voice cast is as great as ever, with America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Kristin Wiig, Kit Harrington, Craig Ferguson, and Jonah Hill returning. Although the sound mix wasn’t as good as it could have been, which was a little distracting at first.
Like the previous installment in the series, Roger Deakins was brought back as a ‘visual consultant.’ For those who don’t know, Deakins is arguably the best cinematographer in the business. And both the second and third films bear his mark. They are breathtakingly beautiful in their coloring and lighting.
The film has yet another absolutely brilliant score by John Powell. It seems that having an iconic musical score is essential to make a trilogy great, and the Dragon trilogy is no exception to that rule. Powell’s scores on the other films are some of the best original scores of the last decade, and this one is arguably the best he’s ever done on ANY movie. His previous film was Solo: a Star Wars Story where he collaborated with the best film composer of all time, John Williams. He seems to have learned a great deal from Williams.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although not quite as good as the other films in the trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is still a great movie with a pitch perfect third act that brings the series to a satisfying conclusion. It is well worth the time and money spent to see it in theaters.