How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World review

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD

Director : Dean DeBlois
Cast : Jay Baruchel, America Ferrara, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, F. Murray Abraham, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, Justin Rupple, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Gerard Butler
Genre : Animation/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 h 44 mins
Opens : 31 January 2019
Rating : PG

            Audiences have followed Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon friend Toothless through thick and thin. The bond between the two has made the How to Train Your Dragon series one of the most resonant ‘a boy and his X’ tales of this generation. The journey taken by Hiccup and Toothless concludes in the final instalment in the trilogy.

It has been a year since the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2. Hiccup and his friends have been conducting rescue missions, freeing captured dragons and bringing them back to Berk. Berk has become a haven where humans and dragons live in harmony, just as Hiccup has always dreamed. However, Berk is becoming overcrowded. Meanwhile, Hiccup faces pressure from Gobber (Craig Ferguson) to marry Astrid (America Ferrara), becoming the fully-fledged chief Berk needs as its leader.

Toothless comes across a female Fury dragon, dubbed a ‘Light Fury’ by Astrid. He is immediately smitten with her, but she proves an elusive mate. Toothless and his prospective girlfriend are in grave danger, as the notorious dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) has made it his mission to slay every Night Fury in existence. Hiccup recalls the stories his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) told him of a mythical lost world populated entirely by dragons, dubbed ‘the Hidden World’. Hiccup and Toothless go off in search of the Hidden World, as the future of mankind’s coexistence with dragons hangs in the balance.

The How to Train Your Dragon film trilogy is a classic coming-of-age tale, and this film brings the story to a bittersweet-but-satisfying close. Audiences have grown up alongside Hiccup and Toothless – the first film was released nine years ago. Director Dean DeBlois expands the world and the mythos of the series but never loses sight of the bond between Hiccup and Toothless that is at its core.

The film is beautifully animated – the titular Hidden World is a breath-taking subterranean paradise, and the chaotic, bustling Berk bursts with inventive design elements that accommodate the coexistence of humans and dragons on the same island. The flight shared by Toothless and the Light Fury recalls the “Can You Read My Mind?” sequence from the 1978 Superman film. Since the film centres on Toothless falling in love, there’s more of a giddy romanticism to the spectacle and less emphasis on action than in the previous instalments.

The returning voice cast is excellent, with Baruchel portraying a Hiccup who has further come into his own. Hiccup’s life has been shaped by trauma and tragedy, but he is also surrounded by love and support. Audiences have stood at several crossroads alongside Hiccup and seeing his character arc complete in this film is expectedly emotional.

Ferrara’s Astrid is a badass who’s also an understanding partner and responsible leader. We see how Hiccup and Astrid complement each other and witness them reach adulthood, on the brink of a life together as chief and chieftess of Berk.

The film’s portrayal of the courtship between Toothless and the Light Fury is cute and filled with awkward relatable moments. There’s a slinky mystique to the Light Fury and seeing Toothless infatuated to the point where he can’t function normally is delightful. As the film progresses, Hiccup must come to terms with the possibility that he and Toothless must part ways. The Hidden World exhibits a maturity that continues this series’ penchant for being a little deeper and a little more honest about life’s ups and downs than many other animated film series are.

While Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) all have their funny moments, these supporting comedic characters sometimes distract from the rest of the movie. The back-and-forth bickering dynamic among Hiccup and Astrid’s friends is the closest the film comes to feeling like some other Dreamworks Animation movies that use comic relief characters and smart aleck quips as a crutch.

F. Murray Abraham sounds like he’s having a fun time conjuring up a little bit of Salieri from Amadeus as the villainous Grimmel. However, it’s clear that the villain isn’t the focus of the film, and as such he come off feeling like a middling Marvel Cinematic Universe villain. Like the second film’s villain Drago, Grimmel is a dragon hunter, because the human villain in a How to Train Your Dragon film is unlikely to be a Lex Luthor-esque CEO.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World does reuse certain story and visual elements from earlier in the series, but it also gives us rich character development and a Toothless who falls in love. There will be tears and the film’s final scene is a perfectly-calibrated blend of closure and a sense of longing for more. It’s a great note to leave the series; one can only hope any potential spinoffs don’t tamper with how The Hidden World wraps things up.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

How To Train Your Dragon 2

As published in Issue #53 of F*** Magazine

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 

Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation,
Run Time: 103 mins
Rating: PG
Opens: 12 June 2014

From the Mother of Dragons to Smaug the Terrible, those mythical winged reptiles we know, love and sometimes fear have re-entered pop culture in a big way. 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, inspired by Cressida Cowell’s book series, had a part to play in it as well. Five years have passed since the events of that film, humans now living peacefully alongside dragons in the Nordic island village of Berk. Hiccup (Baruchel), poised to inherit the role of chieftain from his father Stoick (Butler), has grown inseparable from his beloved Night Fury dragon, Toothless. Hiccup and Toothless stumble across a remote ice cavern, a secret dragon haven and home to Valka (Blanchett), a mysterious, feral dragon master. They also come into conflict with the fearsome dragon hunter Drago Bludvist (Hounsou), with whom Stoick had a treacherous encounter in the past.  


            The first How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best “A boy and his X” tales ever put on screen, right up there with the likes of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrialand Iron Giant. It was also a breath-taking visual feast and in that regard, the sequel ups the ante. The flying sequences are as exhilarating as ever and the 3D effects are stunning, particularly when large ice structures break apart and fall towards the camera. The action sequences are fluid and dynamic and the character animation is lively and detailed. If you were struck by how adorable Toothless was in the first film (and really, who wasn’t) prepare to go “d’aww” and giggle more times than you can care to count. The animators optimise every inch of the cuddly Night Fury to convey his emotions: he’s swift and nimble one minute and friendly and silly the next. Oh, how we’ve missed Toothless on the big screen. This film also boasts a career best musical score from composer John Powell, who snagged his first Oscar nomination for How to Train Your Dragon.

            It pains us a little to say this, but when it comes to the story, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a mild case of sequilitis. How to Train Your Dragon ended with such an equilibrium, the relationships between Hiccup and his father, between Hiccup and his girlfriend Astrid (Ferrera) and between Hiccup and Toothless all arriving at a satisfying place. We’re sure DreamWorks fully intended for it to spawn a franchise, but it concluded so neatly that there didn’t seem to be too many places to go in a sequel. The interactions between the characters are still fun to watch and there are still genuine emotional moments, but this just lacks the warmth and drive of its predecessor. We’ve also got a villain who’s simply kind of there, Drago’s design strongly reminiscent of Shan Yu from Disney’s Mulan. An attempt is made to connect him with Stoick’s past and Djimon Hounsou sounds sufficiently gruff and menacing, but Drago ends up being little more than a generic physically imposing bad guy, complete with scars and dreadlocks. His flame-retardant dragon skin cape is pretty cool, though.

            This reviewer’s theory as to why How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best movies in the DreamWorks Animation oeuvre is that it feels the most Pixar-like. This may sound like a back-handed compliment, but DreamWorks’ trademark all-star voice cast and hip, pop culture referencing humour did wear on many moviegoers’ nerves. How to Train Your Dragon didn’t have a gaggle of marquee name A-listers in the recording booth and was all the better for it. All of the major cast members from the first one, including Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera and Craig Ferguson, return here. Baruchel doesn’t have a typically heroic voice, and it works for Hiccup. Here, we get a Hiccup who has matured, Baruchel adjusting his performance accordingly. Cate Blanchett is an excellent addition to the cast, her delivery at once ethereal and earthy. Apparently, DreamWorks didn’t want a spoiler regarding her character Valka to be revealed, but marketing pushed its inclusion in the trailers anyway. It really does work better if you go into the film blind, hence our beating around the bush in this review. 

            Fans of the first film are unlikely to find anything to hate with the continuing adventures of Hiccup and Toothless. However, given how heartfelt How to Train Your Dragon was and how riveting the story of Hiccup and Toothless’ mutual bond was, one can’t help but feel let down by the sequel. There’s also a fair bit of mood whiplash going on, we get lots of pleasant humour but the transition to the rather heavy and dramatic climax is a tad sudden. Still, there are worse cinematic locales to return to than the island of Berk, and we have to admit we derived some glee from seeing those poor frightened sheep in jeopardy during the Quidditch-like dragon race at the beginning of the film.


Summary: How to Train Your Dragon 2 has sweeping visuals, great music and more of Toothless being cute, but also suffers from a weaker story, treading water in places.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong