Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the chief of the Viking village of Berk, a haven for Vikings and dragons alike. Hiccup and his best friend Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) lead a band of soldiers made up of Snotlout (voiced by Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut (voiced by Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple) on raids against dragon hunters, freeing those captured and bringing them back to Berk. Hiccup’s friend and adviser Gobber (voiced by Craig Ferguson) warns that Berk is getting too crowded with dragons and the hunters are getting closer to discovering where all the freed dragons go. A group of dragon hunters looking to field an army on dragon-back, calls in Grimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), a long-time dragon killer that hunted the Night Fury to extinction, or so he thought. Informed by the dragon hunters that there is one Night Fury left, Grimmel agrees to help them captured all the dragons of Berk and in exchange, he wants to kill the last Night Fury called Toothless. Grimmel has just the bait to bring Toothless in close for the kill: A female Night Fury. Seeing the female, Astrid calls her a Light Fury, Toothless is instantly smitten. Hiccup discovers a trap in the woods near where the Light Fury was seen and knows the hunters have found them. Eret (voiced by Kit Harington) recognizes a tranquilizer dart near the trap as belonging to Grimmel and warns Hiccup he is more dangerous than any other hunter he’s faced. Hiccup remembers a legend his father Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) told him as a child. A land from where the dragons all came he called the Hidden World. It was to the west where sailors feared to go as it was deemed the edge of the world. Hiccup convinces the citizens of Berk to leave their home and go west with their dragons to find the Hidden World so they could all live in peace and safety. There’s no guarantee the Hidden World actually exists, but they have no choice but to look for it and keep their dragons safe from Grimmel.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is the likely end of the “Dragon” story, and it goes out on a beautiful, emotional and exciting note. The visuals of the series have been impressive right from the start, but in this third film, I believe the animators and camera people (yes, they use cameras to shoot some scenes in animated films) have reached a pinnacle that will require a massive leap in technology to beat. It will likely be up for best animated feature at the 2020 Oscars. There are not enough nice things I can say about the film, but I’ll try.
First, as stated above, it looks amazing. There are shots in this film you would believe are live-action if they didn’t have a flying dragon with a couple of people on its back. The imagery is startlingly life-like in several scenes. The water, the hair on character’s heads, the trees, grass and flowers, all move in a believable fashion. The physics, the reactions of objects when thrown or bumped or whatever, is spot on. There is a substance to this world that feels real, despite it being impossible to touch and only existing in computer memory and digital code. I have been a fan of the “How to Train Your Dragon” films, but this may be the best looking of the bunch.
It also has a great story of what growing up and being responsible for yourself and others means. Hiccup was thrust into the job of chief after the untimely death of his father in the second film. He’s never been comfortable with being a leader and needs the support of Astrid and his recently returned mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett) to keep up his confidence. Their support has never been more important than in the fight with Grimmel. More than once, Hiccup makes a mistake that endangers his tribe and the dragons. He questions whether he’s up to being Berk’s chief, and if losing Toothless makes him less of a leader. He must learn that leading is done best with the help of a group of trusted friends and allies and can never be done alone. Hiccup also learns that no one is perfect and there will be mistakes along the way. It is important that he learns from these mistakes and doesn’t repeat them. These lessons he learns from his friends and advisors, discovering the experience of others can improve the leadership of the chief. In other words, those that don’t play well with others don’t necessarily make the best people to be in charge.
The voice cast is stellar, as always, and gives the film both the comedic and emotional punch it needs to appeal to both children and the adults bringing them to the theaters. Jay Baruchel has given Hiccup a believable evolution from teenager to young adult and from son of the chief to being the chief. Baruchel has a friendly-sounding voice and can deliver both the witty aside along with the heartfelt speech to the people of Berk and the kind and loving words to his friend Toothless.
The twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut also get bigger roles in this third chapter of the story. Kristen Wiig again plays the tomboy Ruffnut, while Justin Rupple replaces T.J. Miller as Tuffnut. The pair are annoying together, but nearly insufferable apart. Ruffnut is captured by Grimmel at one point, but is such an unstopping motormouth, he releases her. While there is a purpose in letting her go, it also ends her jabbering about how great she is and how her pigtails are her hand puppet dragon friends. Wiig gives Ruffnut enough femininity to differentiate her from Tuffnut while still showing us she’s as rough and tumble as her brother.
Perhaps the best acting job is by Justin Rupple. He was brought in after the film had been animated and the part voiced by T.J. Miller and had to recreate the role. Miller ran into a rough patch after finishing his voice acting. He was accused of a 2001 sexual assault and called in a drunken bomb threat while riding a commuter train in 2018. The studio decided to pull Miller from the cast and rerecord his part using comedian and impressionist Justin Rupple. There are times in the film when I believed I was listening to Miller, but there are times it clearly isn’t him. Rupple had to match his delivery to the animated mouth movements (called lip flap) and give a good performance. Rupple should be commended for performing well under difficult circumstances, given he was brought in to replace a well-known actor.
F. Murray Abraham is menacing as Grimmel. He gives the villain a quality showing this bad guy enjoys being a bad guy. Grimmel is very good at being evil. He is happy with his life and was a very good dragon hunter, feeling cheated that there is one Night Fury left. His determination and focus on capturing Toothless is daunting and he is prepared for whatever Hiccup and his crew plan. Abraham is a gifted performer, winning the Academy Award for best actor as Salieri in 1984’s “Amadeus,” and winning and being nominated for many other awards. Attracting this kind of talent to do voice work in an animated film says a great deal about how much respect the actor has for the project. “How to Train Your Dragon” has been a series of films that have delivered amazing visuals and performances and this third installment may be the best of the bunch.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is rated PG for some mild rude humor and adventure action. There may have been some belches and farts in the film, but I don’t recall there being much in the way of rude humor. There are fights between humans and between humans and dragons. Grimmel has dragons that spew acid instead of fire. Some people are shown being hit on the head and being knocked out. People and dragons are shot with a tranquilizer dart. Humans are chased by angry dragons. There is no foul language.
“How to Train Your Dragon” is one of my favorite films of the last 10 years. The mixture of humor, action and emotion was a surprise in what could have been a run-of-the-mill animated kids movie. While I wasn’t as enamored with the second film, it was still entertaining and visually stunning. Now with the third film wrapping up the trilogy, I find myself wanting more. Not because there’s something lacking in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” but because I want to spend more time with Hiccup and Toothless and a world filled with friendly, flying dragons. Alas, we will not likely revisit the world of Berk, Vikings and dragons…at least, until Dreamworks animation decides to reboot the franchise in a cynical cash grab. Fortunately, we will be able to look back on this original trilogy of films with fond memories, especially the last one.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” gets five dragon-flame stars.
Two new movies open this week. Maybe I’ll go crazy and see both, but I guarantee I will see at least one of the following:
Tyler Perry’s A Media Family Funeral—
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