Dreamworks Animation has a curious track record. When on point, this studio has created timeless films like The Prince of Egypt, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and their collaborations with Aardman Animations, namely Wallace and Grommit:The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Chicken Run. But they’ve also produced legendary misfires like Shark Tale, Home, Monsters vs Aliens, and Bee Movie. This studio is capable of engrossing audiences with beauty and intrigue but also capable of boring fans to tears. Fortunately, the studio found and excecuted on a concept leading to one of cinema’s best film trilogies over the last 15 years.
In 2004, Over The Hedge producer Bonnie Arnold found a series of children’s books written by British author Cressida Cowell called How to Train Your Dragon. Arnold insisted to studio executives her interest in the books for a film and the studio committed, eventually picking up Lilo And Stitch co-producers Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders to co-write and co-direct the new project. The new directors changed the film from being strictly loyal to the source material to a less whimsical, more grand story. Academy Award winning cinematographer Roger Deakins was consulted for visual direction and Dreamworks assembled a brilliant animation team to work smart use of 3D effects into a colorfully designed world.
The first How to Train Your Dragon movie hit theatres in 2010 and was a critical and financial hit. Four years later, a sequel hit theatres and was, again, a critical and financial hit. Five years later, Dreamworks concluds this trilogy with a masterful close and expansion to a superb story with How to Train Your Dragon 3: Hidden World.
Let’s get the obvious out first: the animation is masterful. The first two films laid a beautiful foundation of location and character design, lighting, color palette, and inventive 3D effects. Hidden World expands on the animation and gives a masterclass in 3D computer generated animation. The world design is fantastical and engrossing, the character designs are goofy and exaggerated, and the film is lighted perfectly. The sand and water look remarkably realistic without pulling attention away from the world design by looking out of place. Even small things like glasses look like real world glasses while somehow looking appropriate to the film’s world.
John Powell returns to score the film and provides another well composed score. He’s been a regular Dreamworks composer since Antz back in 1998, and his experience shows here. The score matches the scenes very nicely, going from floaty to soaring, grandiose to somber, heartfelt, and peaceful effortlessly. It completes the action on screen and compliments the story very well. Icelandic musician Jonsi returns from the first two movies to contribute a vocal theme, “Together From Afar”. The track is perfect for the tone and story of the movie.
Speaking of which, the plot is fun and engaging. It smartly expands on the events from the prior movie and continues the character progression from original stories, as a good sequel should do. It’s paced perfectly, always introducing story elements while allowing time for the characters to interact with their situations believably. Nothing feels rushed or out of place. Dean DeBlois, who directed and wrote the screenplay, deserves high praise for intelligence shown in story composition.
The voice cast is mostly the same as before and maintains their high quality. Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera return as Hiccup and Astrid and are excellent as ever. They’ve both clearly grown more comfortable in these roles and bring these characters to a more mature place in both their relationship and as members of their tribe.
Cate Blanchet and Craig Ferguson are excellent as ever as the older members of the tribe. Blanchet is obviously more dignified and Ferguson more comedic, but both serve their roles well and have heartfelt moments.
The supporting gaggle of Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wig, and Justin Rupple fills out more comedy and enjoyble levity. They’re not may favorite part of the movie, but they’re plenty of fun.
F. Murray Abraham is a worthy addition to this series’ excellent list of antagonists. He’s cartoony and creepy, but not excessivly so. He’s intimidating, but still humorous enough to fit in with the world. He works, and the anti-animal cruelty message from his character is well taken in this picture.
Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment for Hidden World is portraying two romances with one being shown without words, because dragons cannot speak English in this world. Toothless, Hiccup’s winged companion is introduced to a female Fury species of dragon in this movie and the two are adorable. Toothless grows through the course of the film from a playful and rather dumb boy dragon into a powerful force, and that’s drawn from him in some sweet and beautifully realized romantic scenes that, blessedly, aren’t really sexualized. The film know how to show sweetness and wholesome familial and romantic love in a refreshing way.
I saw an advance screening of this movie earlier this month but delayed posting this review for two reasons. One, so the review could be closer to film’s release. Two, so I could rewatch the other movies in the series. After rewatching and loving the first two, I’ve come to an unexpected conclusion: the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy is one of cinema’s best ever made.
Each film introduces new and endearing characters into a beautiful world and expands on the last without contradicting what came before. Each film stands as a complete and good story, but they have their full strength when watched as one complete story from start to finish. It feels like a great children’s book brought to the big screen, like the stories my parents read to me as a kid, only I can see and feel it. I would have loved these movies as a kid, and I see all the complexities for the adults through my current eyes. It’s perfectly composed family entertainment. As for a favorite, I can’t pick between the three movies which I like the most. That’s the highest praise I can give for a series.
Take your kids, family, friends, spouse, or just yourself to see this movie this weekend. It’s a feel good, beautifully animated film that reminds audiences what wholesome family entertainment is.