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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a fitting conclusion for the trilogy

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a fitting conclusion for the trilogy

It’s been five years since we last saw the residents of Berk, and in that time, the residents have built the small town into a human-dragon utopia of sorts. But because this is the opening of a film, all is not well. There is an overcrowding problem, as well as the threat of outsiders coming to Berk to poach all of the dragons for themselves. Thrust into the role of chief after the death of his father in the previous film, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is looking for a legendary “hidden world” that is the original home of all dragons. Complicating this search is Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a poacher responsible for the eradication of the rest of the dragon Toothless’ species. To try to separate his prey from his pack, he sets free a captured “Light Fury” to try and draw Toothless away from Hiccup.

As the third entry in the franchise, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is less ambitious than its predecessor, which not only added a lot to the mythos of this world, but also complex moral questions not typically wrestled with in films designed to entice children into filling their parents’ homes with cute dragon toys. While still not as near-perfect as the original film, The Hidden World finds its balance, delivering a satisfying conclusion that blends a more straightforward story with high emotional stakes for our characters. Romance and love are strong themes not just for Toothless and his new paramour, but also with Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) deciding whether or not to get married.

The Dragon films have far and away been DreamWorks Animation’s most artful series of films, and the animation continues to be a high point. The camerawork retains a sense of motion lacking in many other 3D animated films especially, giving a sense that the characters (and the audience) are moving through a fully realized environment. The dragon designs also continue to strike a nice balance between cartoonish and realistic, like impossible proportions, yet with detailed scales and drool. One interesting note is that there are two scenes that draw from two of the best animated films of the last 30 years. One is when Toothless and the Light Fury playfully fly and dance in the air, like Wall-E and Eva, and another when many other dragons bow to Toothless as he sits atop a large rock formation, calling to mind the opening of The Lion King (which we will also see recreated this year). I wouldn’t say they are direct copies, but I can’t shake that watching them only brought to mind these other classic films immediately.

This entire trilogy feels almost like a stealth masterpiece, equally deft at handling a unique fantasy world, character development, and a sense of adventure, which is all too rare in any kind of filmmaking. While they seem to have skipped across the surface of our culture for now, when the nostalgia cycle turns to revive the beloved properties of the 2010s, college kids will be wearing Toothless backpacks and remixing John Powell’s ascendant score into whatever electronica subgenre is popular at the time. I’m looking forward to it.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World opens in Philly theaters today.

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