How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Review — A Hidden Gem of a Sequel

While I ad­mit to be­ing a stan for the orig­i­nal Dreamworks fea­ture, sched­ul­ing is­sues pre­vent­ed me from see­ing How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World be­fore the second-to-last day that it was avail­able in my lo­cal the­ater, and I wish I’d tried hard­er to work it in soon­er. Even hav­ing al­ready known what to ex­pect, I thor­ough­ly en­joyed every minute of the flick.

Likely in large part due to the fact that it’s a se­quel, with­out even men­tion­ing the big-name movies shov­ing it out of the lime­light, this movie slipped un­der most people’s radars dur­ing its the­ater run. But the pres­ence of the oth­er flicks def­i­nite­ly put the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin of any pub­lic dis­course of this fine film. And that is a damn shame.

If you walk into a se­quel — or any movie for that mat­ter — ex­pect­ing nov­el­ty and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary every time, you will be dis­ap­point­ed. A lot. This is a top­ic I’ve al­ready cov­ered in my re­view of Hitman’s Bodyguard — pop­corn flicks are A‑okay, folks, and there is no shame in lik­ing them! The is­sue with se­quels comes in when a profit-hungry stu­dio re­sus­ci­tates a long-used-and-dried-up sto­ry­line be­cause it made them a lot of mon­ey once, and they hope the old hype will make them more. Thankfully, HTTYD3 does not suf­fer from sequel-itis; in fact, for a se­quel, it’s very very good. Mostly be­cause the sto­ry was treat­ed with ex­act­ly the re­spect it was due. Nothing more, noth­ing less.

This movie doesn’t do any­thing su­per nov­el — it doesn’t try to mess with a work­ing for­mu­la, nei­ther by over­ly push­ing it to be some­thing dif­fer­ent, nor cheap­en­ing it for prof­it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? The vil­lain is a bit one-note but this is fine as he pri­mar­i­ly ex­ists to high­light the greater moral dilem­ma of the plot. He needn’t be com­plex, in fact in this case, it’s bet­ter that he isn’t (but he is well enough writ­ten as a crafty Xanatos-type!). 

The moral is­sues and lessons are there in the back­ground to be dis­cov­ered and an­a­lyzed, but they’re not used to bash you over head — a per­fect bal­ance. Of course there’s epic an­i­ma­tion (drag­on mat­ing dances, om­fgggggggg) and the mu­sic and bat­tle scenes we know and love. This is a movie that knows and em­braces what it is: a great action-adventure en­ter­tain­ment pop­corn film for kids of all ages with a hefty dash of cute and soul­ful to boot!

The best part, how­ev­er, is the sto­ry it­self. Unlike what many on­line fans in the fo­rums feared, a new end­ing was writ­ten in con­trast to the source ma­te­r­i­al, but it was still in­cred­i­bly bit­ter­sweet. I sobbed like a baby in the mer­ci­ful­ly emp­ty theater.

This third How To Train Your Dragon film is an ex­am­ple of ac­tu­al­ly pass­ably good writ­ing. There’s no last minute ass-pulls for cheap en­ter­tain­ment; every­thing is log­i­cal and phlebotinum-free, and even telegraphed for those who are trope-savvy! There is no Mary-Sueing of the plot so that Everything Magically Works Out. The writ­ing treats us with re­spect, like adults. Not every­thing will end per­fect­ly all the time, but as the last scene shows (with­out com­plete­ly spoil­ing!), friend­ships still last for­ev­er and we can still re­vis­it them on occasion.

Considering that quite a few of us grew up with this fran­chise, it’s very much like say­ing good­bye to our child­hood… and this as­pect is a won­der­ful al­le­go­ry for com­ing of age. The pro­tag­o­nist, Hiccup, has to moral­ly “grow up” and face hard ir­re­versible truths and loss­es, as we all do when we tran­si­tion into adult­hood. But we nev­er lose the old hap­py mem­o­ries. This was a very mean­ing­ful way to close the tril­o­gy, with a heart­felt mes­sage to its loy­al fanbase.

It is a cry­ing shame that this hid­den gem was over­shad­owed by oth­er films and con­tro­ver­sies such as the one sur­round­ing Captain Marvel. I’m not go­ing to go deep into that par­tic­u­lar con­tro­ver­sy, as that’s bet­ter left to peo­ple more versed in the ma­te­r­i­al than I am (such as our pod­cast Graded 0.5!). But it is sad to me that a movie with poor writ­ing, which has been twist­ed be­yond its pay grade into such a bas­tion of so­cial is­sues that were bare­ly touched on in its plot, has tak­en over the­aters and the fo­rum of pub­lic opin­ion for good or ill. Captain Marvel dis­cus­sion has been blown up to such a point that peo­ple aren’t even talk­ing about about beau­ti­ful works like this.

A shame indeed.

If you ex­pect every movie ever to push the en­ve­lope and be avant-garde, then you’re the one miss­ing out. This movie was none of those things, but that by no means takes away from it be­ing an ex­cel­lent send off to a won­der­ful sto­ry and to a chap­ter of (in my case late) child­hood, and it de­served far more at­ten­tion than it has gotten.

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Indigo Altaria has been a devo­tee of Pokemon since Gen 1, what­ev­er gave it away? Within the greater realm of geek cul­ture, her in­ter­ests in­clude lan­guages, cul­tures, world­build­ing, and intersectionality.
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