The Dragon Riders of Berk are back and they are incredible!
In full disclosure I couldn’t even watch a preview of this movie without tearing up, so I was probably predisposed toward liking it, but man, did I like it!
I will now put on my “objective pants” and keep it real for at least one paragraph before I gush. The Hidden World is not in any shape, form or fashion as good as the first How To Train Your Dragon. But the first movie was so original, so emotional, so out-of-the box that I must qualify that comparison by pointing out how high the bar was set. I regretfully don’t remember much about the second installment (this is problematic because there was apparently at least one major development that has a significant and lasting impact on Hiccup’s life) so I have to assume it was marginally forgettable, but I don’t think that will be the case with this third and final installment. Also in the negative column is the fact that both I and the person I was watching it with found the artistic concept of the actual Hidden World to be beautiful, but overtly derivative of Avatar’s Pandora. Hate me for saying it all you want, but it wasn’t just me.
Now, time to gush!
These minor distractions aside, this was a fun and beautifully animated movie that fulfilled its promise to deliver (and maybe surpass) the same emotional heft as the original.
In the previous movies, there were any number of themes and morals to be explored: father/son relationships, defying expectations, the importance of tolerance/understanding, befriending one’s enemies and I could go on and on. In this movie, though, there’s more of a balance between two key thoughts: 1) defining one’s own path; and 2) the equal measure of loss that always accompanies true love. I did mention this is a kid’s movie, yay, a cartoon even, didn’t I?
Combine that with amazing fight scenes, a flaming sword that I would almost prefer to a lightsaber, joyous depictions of flight, unsurpassed character development and incredible costume designs that will keep cosplayers winning contests for years and you have How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.
On character development, I know this isn’t the first animated series that allows its characters to age (we’ve all seen Andy grow up in Toy Story, even if it’s in the background), but after thinking how long Stewie Griffin has been one year old despite Meg having her 16th and 17th birthdays and how Bart Simpson is really knocking on 40, it was incredibly rewarding to watch Hiccup, et al., grow from when they were taking those first battle lessons in the cage into the young men and women responsible for leading Berk into a new era. In fact, second to Toothless’s inherent dachshund-ness, that might be my favorite part of the series. And on that note, I have to also say their treatment of Astrid is inspired. To be clear, this movie is about Hiccup and Toothless, so Astrid is without question a supporting character, but we see in this movie that she has had just as much development as the principal leads. Because of her own growth, she and Hiccup have developed a model relationship where they always have each other’s backs while respecting the fact that they can both handle themselves on their own. The result is a perfect partnership to which any couple (animated or otherwise) should aspire.
I know Pixar is sort of the gold standard when it comes to animated movies that make you cry, but this series really holds its on and does so on its own terms. And one little Pandora-esque scene or not, this movie is gorgeously and at times even stunningly animated.
I can’t imagine a better movie that should get the entire family to either applaud or cry (even if it’s hidden by subtle eye-wiping) or both. From now on, I will always imagine that any time I hear thunder it’s really a Night Fury teleporting in the clouds above me. My only recommendation is to take a refresher and watch the first two before going. (Seriously, was the second one that forgettable? I’m going to have to watch it again…)
Now this is Berk!