Click here for the flashback interview with Jay Baruchel, America Ferrara, Dean DeBlois, and Bonnie Arnold for HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON II.
Ah, the timeless tale of a boy and his dragon. As recounted in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON I and II, it was magical. Even more magical is that the final part of the trilogy, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD is the equal of the first two without being a repeat of either installment. Bringing the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless, the Night Fury he befriended, to a close takes on the bittersweet reality of growing up as the pair realize that, as perfect as their friendship has been, there is a different destiny awaiting each of them. And that being a true friend mean wanting the best for each other.
The peace between dragons and humans in the kingdom of Berk has been going well, with Hiccup’s land providing the haven for the winged beasts who have fallen afoul of less tolerant humans. As Berk’s new chieftain, Hiccup is growing into his role, with significant other Astrid (American Ferrara)proving her mettle as the kingdom’s cheiftainess apparent. Together they take on a fleet of dragon hunters who outnumber them, but don’t outmatch their skill, dedication, and repartee. Hiccup may be more brain than brawn, even with his nifty flaming sword, but that only means he’s smart enough to celebrate Astrid’s superior skill in battle, and to recognize that they aren’t quite ready to tie the knot despite pressure from their circle of friends who want the dynasty to continue. And for Hiccup to finally grow up.
Alas, their latest dragon rescue has attracted the attention of Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), an old school dragon hunter who has made it his mission in life to destroy the last of the Night Furies, which includes Toothless and the Light Fury (suitably nameless for reasons that are in keeping with where the film is taking us) Grimmel is using to ensnare Toothless, Berk’s alpha dragon. It won’t be hard. Toothless is smitten at first sight by the sparkly white dragon with the big blue eyes and beguiling wild streak.
If the story is a little thin, it doesn’t matter. This is as much a character study as it is a rousing action adventure flick, and seeing Toothless kick up a sandstorm during his courtship of the Light Fury is nothing short of endearingly enchanting, not to mention sweetly comic as Toothless takes cues from a hiding, and equally romantically inept, Hiccup about what to do next to impress his new lady love. The dragon pair’s nuptial flight through a lighting storm and the aurora borealis is a perfect short film unto itself, sparked with a gentle slapstick and undeniable chemistry. The same can be said of the more terrestrial courtship between Astrid and Hiccup, though more conventional, it is no less a palpable romance that eschews the usual fairy tale trappings in favor of a true meeting of minds.
Grimmel’s machinations make for the story’s nicely timed twists, even if the accent essayed by Abraham comes off as Christopher Walken doing a middling Bela Lugosi impression. The comic relief comes courtesy of the familiar supporting cast, including Kristen Wiig as Ruffnut, a dragon rider who has found a way to weaponize her annoying personality, and a slew of little hobgobblers that might give the Minions a run for their money. Cate Blanchett returns as Hiccup’s long-lost mother on hand to offer parental wisdom, as is Hiccup’s deceased father (Gerard Butler), seen in flashback inspiring the very young Hiccup about his responsibilities as the leader of Berk, and assuring the boy that love is always worth it, even when it hurts.
The animation is whiz-bang terrific, from complicated action sequences where ships burn, to tripping through a bioluminescent landscape that is one of the most lovely ever drawn by hand or computer, to the smallest nuances of a character’s face, human or dragon. Even something as minor as the shape of Toothless’ pupils perfectly conveys the range of emotions that the creature is going through with the same skill as Toothless’ distinctly feline body language, and without being the least bit flashy. The voice work aids and abets the visuals, with subtlety and broad comedy both shining through.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD takes its shots at those who don’t appreciate nature on her own terms, along with a few other of the moral precepts that fairy tales are supposed to convey. It gives the proceedings extra heart without bogging them down. It’s a perfect animated film for all ages, and one that makes me sad to see the trilogy come to a close.