'How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World' Review: Gorgeous, Emotional End to a Near-Perfect Trilogy

Crafting a great trilogy is extremely difficult. It's hard to make one really good movie, let alone three that all tell one cohesive story. A series will often struggle to stick the landing by delivering a messy and disappointing third installment (Pirates of the Caribbean), or even just turn in a film that's "fine" in the grand scheme of things, but nowhere near the quality of the first two (The Dark Knight). Some trilogies get progressively sillier and harder to follow as they go on (Back to the Future), and some have the equally unique and strange problem of delivering a solid third film, but completely whiffing on the second (Cars). All I'm trying to say is that truly great movie trilogies are in very limited supply. It's rare that each installment in a three-film series is as good, or even better as the one before it, but that's exactly what we have in How to Train Your Dragon.

The third installment in the beloved Dreamworks series, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, is an absolute triumph of a film. The stakes feel bigger than they have in the previous two movies, the decisions even bolder, but writer/director Dean DeBlois and his team still find a way to keep the charm and soul of the series at the forefront. There is no shortage of emotion or laughs, and the film's ending will leave you in tears, though you probably expected that. The Hidden World is easily the best third film in an animated franchise not named Toy Story 3, and that is some incredible company to keep.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World takes place about a year after the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2, and sees the Isle of Berk becoming a true utopia. Humans and dragons are living together in harmony, and it seems like one party could not exist without the other. The only real issue at the film's start revolves around Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) now being the island's chief, and the accompanying pressure for him to marry Astrid (America Ferrera). More trouble arises when a dragon hunter named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) learns of the existence of Toothless, the only Night Fury he has yet to kill. Toothless meets a female "Light Fury," who steals his heart and shows him the much-discussed Hidden World, where dragons live in secret, safe from humans. It quickly becomes clear to Hiccup that maybe the dragons, and most importantly Toothless, belong somewhere that isn't Berk, and he has to make a decision about the future of both races.

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(Photo: Dreamworks Animation)

It would be easy to discuss the obvious, and tragic, picture this film paints of prejudice, but the first two films already did that. Anyone watching the series will likely recognize the pain of an entire race that is thought to be nothing but monsters, and the few people who stand up to try and put an end to hate. The first two movies touched on these issues flawlessly, so there's no real need to hammer them home here. Instead, DeBlois takes things even deeper, first in his script, and then in his direction.

This time around, the focus shifts to wondering what's actually best for the person you love, and that having what makes you happy doesn't always mean you're doing things right. That's a hard lesson for anyone to learn, especially a young person, but this film so beautifully illustrates the value of true friendship. Life can be extremely complicated, and the story of Hiccup and Toothless illustrates that point particularly well.

We knew going in that this would be about Toothless finding love and potentially finding a life away from Hiccup, but what makes the story ingenious is how it makes Hiccup a direct parallel. There's pressure on Hiccup to marry Astrid, something he's reluctant to do because sometimes change can be terrifying. But as Toothless finds life outside of his best friend, so does Hiccup. Astrid consistently steps up to the plate as Hiccup's equal, helping him make the tough choices that he may not have been able to without her. Like so many of us in the real world, both Hiccup and Toothless try to navigate the strange segue between your closest friend and your true life partner. Kids will understand that potentially saying goodbye to someone you love is upsetting, but this thread really brings things home for the adults in the audience.

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(Photo: Dreamworks Animation)

We won't dive into specifics about the film's ending, but it isn't a spoiler to say that it is a wonderful conclusion. Everything about the franchise comes full circle, with every plot thread that matters tied in a nice little bow. It's as emotional as you might expect, and the retrospective look at growing older that it provides creates a tearjerker of a final scene.

The story is nearly flawless, with enough emotion and adventure to satisfy anyone in the audience, and the incredibly detailed animation is some of the best we've seen on the big screen. Every element combines for a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to one of the best animated franchises in history. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a victory of the tallest order. Like Hiccup and Toothless, I'm sad to have to say goodbye, but couldn't ask for a better farewell.


Rating: 5 out of 5

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World releases in theaters on February 22nd.