REVIEW: ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ puts stunning cap on DeBlois’ trilogy

Astrid (America Ferrera) and Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) venture into the dragons’ realm in DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” directed by Dean DeBlois.

Cameron Hoover

The “How to Train Your Dragon” series — criminally underappreciated since its opening installment released back in 2010 — is interestingly named. Sure, that was the plot of the first film: A weak young man named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) discovers a fierce dragon he nicknames Toothless and goes against his warrior father’s wishes by befriending the creature instead of killing it according to custom.

With “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” an almost impossibly beautiful, sometimes familiar response to today’s social climate, director Dean DeBlois has moved past the simplicity of the series’s title to finish his trilogy with a touching end to Hiccup and Toothless’ journey.

The story isn’t necessarily one we haven’t seen before, or even one we haven’t seen before in this trilogy. After years of trying to create a utopia where dragons and humans live as one, some people just aren’t ready for that type of harmony yet. So a group of like-minded scoundrels hire a world-famous dragon hunter named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) to hunt down Toothless, essentially destroying the relationship between humans and dragons forever.

It becomes fairly obvious early on that “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is DeBlois’ response to the current sociopolitical climate in the age of Donald Trump. He toes the line pretty handily though; it never feels like he’s bashing you over the head with his political opinions, which is undoubtedly appreciated in a time when everyone in Hollywood thinks they’re the first to have the opinion that the president is bad.

FILM FACT BOX

Title: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Director: Dean DeBlois

Voice Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, Kit Harington, Justin Rupple

Writer: Dean DeBlois

Runtime: 104 minutes

Grimmel, dangerously close in both name and philosophy to “Fantastic Beasts” villain Grindelwald, seems to not be DeBlois’ representation of Trump, but rather the sort of people he empowers. Grimmel is of the opinion that humans are the dominant species and it’s only a matter of times before dragons go on a killing spree if the two kinds are allowed to intermingle — a pretty noticeable comparison to refugee crises of today.

Even though there is a huge battle scene at the end of the film, the day isn’t saved necessarily by violence, but by love — love for each other, but also love for others, ones who might not look or think like you. It’s a sentiment explored before, especially in recent animated films like “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part,” but it’s still done well here.

It also doesn’t hurt that “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” might genuinely be the most crowning technical achievement in cinematic animation to date. Some of the locations, coupled with John Powell’s third knockout score in a row, are legitimately breathtaking.

There’s a film called “Samsara,” where director Ron Fricke traveled the globe for the sole purpose of finding the most absurdly beautiful things to put his camera on, and this is like the computer-generated version of that. It’s worth seeking out an IMAX theater just to revel in the pure mastery of visual effects and art direction on display here.

A major plot point in the film is one where Toothless, long thought to be the last “Nightfury” dragon left, finds a female of the same species, and they’re essentially on their first date in a sequence that plays out like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” from “The Lion King.”

But unlike that 1994 classic, Toothless and his mate don’t talk. They’re dragons, after all. So what transpires instead is a close to 10-minute sequence of Toothless parading around a beach with plush white sand and crisp blue waters as the two star-crossed lovers become infatuated before our eyes. Coupled with musical cues that change with the passing emotions of the encounter, it’s one of the most memorable animated sequences of recent memory.

It’s because of scenes like these that cement the “How to Train Your Dragon” series as one of the most artfully challenging and supremely rewarding animated trilogies ever made. With “The Hidden World,” Dean DeBlois and his nine years of stellar work get the send-off they deserve. It’s a theme DeBlois explores, but I just hope we’re ready to embrace it.

GRADE: A-

Cameron Hoover is a film critic. Contact him at [email protected]