"How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" Review

Title: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Director: Dean DeBlois
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Genre(s): Action/Drama
Rated: PG (For adventure action and some mild rude humor)

When the original "How to Train Your Dragon" was released it was released during the same year as "Toy Story 3."  While I will never deny the power of Pixar's (at the time) final chapter in their beloved franchise, I did feel that, on the overall scale, DreamWork's had actually bested Lassetter and his crew to make a much better film in the grand scheme of things.  While "Toy Story 3" has that melancholy opening and tear inducing ending, I felt much of the middle was filler at best.  Entertaining filler, but filler none-the-less.  I found the developing relationship between the boy and his dragon to be much more poignant than the toys trying to escape the horrors of a pre-school run by a teddy bear who reminded me more of a mafia crime lord than a stuffed animal.  Nine years after the fact though we now have "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," which takes a page out of "Toy Story 3's" playbook, and in my opinion does so much more effectively

For at this point Hiccup - the dragon trainer from the previous two films - has become chief of his village, one where Vikings and dragons live side by side.  While leading his people he has taken activism on as a side hobby, and spends his nights freeing capturing dragons with his friends and his (supposed) fiancĂ©. Hard choices must be made though with two situations.  The first is when a dragon hunter who has killed every Night Fury in the world comes out to try and kill Toothless, Hiccup must find a way to protect his long time companion.  Even worse though is the discovery of a Light Fury, a female dragon with which Toothless may actually have a chance of mating with.  The female dragon doesn't take too kindly to humans though (and Toothless isn't exactly what you would call 'suave' having been house trained years ago).  These are the two main conflicts, but there is also a third, almost unspoken conflict, one that gives "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" it's emotional punch.

See, much in the same way "Toy Story 3" was about a boy growing up and leaving his childhood behind, so too is "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" about a young man becoming the person he was always meant to be.  When this series started out he was a goof who messed everything up for everyone (to the point where his death would bring more relief to his village than tears).  In the years since though he has become more responsible.  In all this time, however, he has focused on his own needs and desires.  Now responsibility is a growing burden.  He can't just explore the world and play with his pet.  The time for exploring has largely passed him by.  He has people to protect, and those people are in danger because of this dragon hunter.  When the third act comes around and all has been said, some sacrifices will have to be made.  Worse for Hiccup: they will have to be made willingly.

Considering all I've written, you may think this is a dead serious film.  It's not.  Truthfully, it's more fun than the previous two films have been (and certainly isn't as tragic as the last one).  It is fun to watch the adorable romance between the two Fury's develop, and the dragon hunter is as good as any Disney villain out there.  The scenes of flight are especially intense in the final half, making this one of the few times I can say that 3D is the only way to see this (my screening was 4DX, which added another layer of immersion).  Although this is the least spectacular movie in the trilogy by a hair, it does cap off what is ultimately one of the rare perfect trilogies.  I revisited the first two films  just before seeing this one, and I was amazed at the care taken in all of them.  How they evolved the characters, hinted at things to come, to ultimately conclude with a happy (but realistically bittersweet) ending.

I always was offended when people said DreamWorks made soft movies in comparison to Pixar films.  While movies about penguins and talking donkey's were the companies break and butter, the 'How to Train Your Dragon' trilogy is something truly special in the world of fantasy adventures, and it's one the genre should be grateful for for years to come.  And in this case, yes, "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" is easily a better film than "Toy Story 3," in almost every conceivable way.  The only area where there might be some debate is in which films ending was better?  Of course, in an ironic twist of fate, Pixar DID decide to make a "Toy Story 4," and it WILL be released in a few short months!  Will the toys manage to upstage the boy and his dragon in the long run?  It's a question I am eagerly awaiting the answer for (and it's all the better I won't have to wait so long to find out).

Parents, there is some mild violence, but the movie is overall much lighter than the previous films (minus the emotional punch, which I don't think is objectively bad for kids).  Recommended for ages 6 and up.