Review: 'How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World' reserves the best for last

Marcus Goh
·Contributor
PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

The best part about How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the last part, where you finally see what becomes of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless. It’s a bittersweet ending that has some hints of preachiness about it, reinforcing the anti-war and anti-discrimination themes that have been a part of the series since the first instalment. However, getting to that last part is a little bit of a slog, even though there are some good ideas along the way.

PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

The final (for now) instalment of the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy sees Hiccup, Toothless and friends facing the greatest threat ever to the human-dragon utopia of Berk. It also sees Toothless getting a love interest of his own, which predictably puts some strain on his relationship with Hiccup. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see a palette-swapped version of a Night Fury (the species of dragon that Toothless belongs to), aptly christened the Light Fury.

PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World loses none of its self-aware humour that is such an entertaining aspect of the series, and it’s evident in a hilarious throwaway line when Hiccup advises another character to just draw Toothless but colour it white to represent the Light Fury. It’s a sly wink to adult audiences who may be wise to such time-saving animation techniques, while still subtly reminding kids that the Light Fury and Toothless are of the same species.

PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

However, the movie then goes into this terribly long drawn sequence when Toothless attempts to woo the Light Fury with the aid of Hiccup, after suffering from lovesickness. While it’s played for laughs, it’s really, really boring to see how dragons try to acquire a mate. Toothless isn’t as cute when he’s trying to impress the opposite gender, as he is when he’s interacting with Hiccup. In fact, the connective tissue that holds the film together is the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless (or lack of it thereof, at some point). It’s this beautiful friendship that makes the How To Train Your Dragon series so endearing to audiences, and this instalment plays on that. It’s just that dragon romances pale in comparison to such an organic and genuine friendship.

PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

The Hidden World, a prominent part of the title and supposedly the core of the film, is a letdown. We don’t see it for all that long, and it’s not all that… impressive. Sure, it’s hidden, and it could arguably be called a “world”, but it seems like a haphazard plot device thrown in at the last minute. It acts as an incredibly flimsy reason for the citizens of Berk to act as they do, and it’s such a nebulous concept that you don’t even really recognise what they’re looking for.

PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

The reveal of the Hidden World also comes during a rather languid portion of the movie, when the chips are down but the heroes must still persevere on despite overwhelming loss. The rather saggy middle of How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World could have done with a quicker pace, although the positive thing is that it does unfold in a slightly unexpected way.

PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

If you’re expecting a massive dragon antagonist to anchor the fight at the climax of the film (as has been the case for the previous two How To Train Your Dragon films), you’ll be disappointed. There’s no gargantuan, seemingly invincible beast that the heroes have to face in this film. Instead, it’s a scheming, wiry villain (whose size and girth echoes that of Hiccup’s, making him sort of a suitable foil) who uses trickery and drugs to battle the heroes with dragons of his own. In fact, with the way the villain Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) uses drugs on dragons, you could almost say that the film could have been titled How To Trank Your Dragon. It does tie the conflict back to Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship, which is a plus for the fight.

PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

Despite all that, the film ends beautifully. It ends with a heartbreaking revelation for both Hiccup and Toothless, but it also shows what becomes of them (and their children) many years in the future. It pays off the friendship we’ve seen between the pair since the very first movie, and it shows us what true freedom and friendship means. You do wonder at the amazing durability of Toothless’ tail prosthetic though — it probably exceeds even the most advanced ones you see today.

PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

Themes wise, the film stays true to its message and reminder to be open-minded, tolerant, and loving. There’s no better way to encapsulate this message than with the final scene. It veers a little too closely to becoming a social commentary at times, but on the whole it manages to avoid sounding too didactic.

The Hidden World could have been faster paced, but it pays off the wait with a wonderful finale. Time will tell whether this will truly be the final instalment in the franchise.

PHOTO: United International Pictures
PHOTO: United International Pictures

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you are a How To Train Your Dragon fan.

Score: 3.2/5

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 104 minutes

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is directed and written by Dean DeBlois. It features the voice talents of Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), America Ferrara (Astrid), Cate Blanchett (Valka), Craig Ferguson (Gobber the Belch), Jonah Hill (Snotlout Jorgenson), Kit Harington (Eret), Justin Rupple (Tuffnut Thorston), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut Thorston), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs Ingerman), F. Murray Abraham (Grimmel), and Gerard Butler (Stoick the Vast). It is rated PG.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World opens in cinemas:
– 31 January, 2019 (Singapore)
– 20 February, 2019 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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