One of the most incredible things about the franchise of ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is that while the series has stunning battle sequences and great big heart, there is a comical and whimsical way in which the dragons are depicted, other than the Night Fury Toothless, of course. The dragons of the movies are awkward looking and round with googly eyes, as opposed to many other cinematic dragons where they are meant to look sleek and menacing (see Smaug of ‘The Hobbit’ or even as much as the classic Disney cartoon of ‘Sleeping Beauty.’).
But despite their cartoonish appearance, the dragons of ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ are as menacing and as fearsome as they are loveable and endearing. It’s how the characters in this world treat them. As much as they are beloved companions to the inhabitants of Berk, the village of home of our protagonist, the chief Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon friend, Toothless.
Of all the dragons, Toothless may well be the only really “cool” looking one -- completely black and sleek in design. But he’s quirky too, with many of his mannerisms reminiscent of a playful dog and now, in ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,’ also like a cat.
Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship is real as it is with every other character and their dragons. It’s one of the magical things about this franchise -- the inner workings of the world is so set and believable because they think and act and respond as if it is all true, even if what we are seeing is a wonderfully-paced, lush cartoon world with cartoon dragons and vikings.
Even if the technological wizardry behind ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ surpasses the previous films in movement and texture of skin and hair, that charm pervades and keeps the film capable of reaching out into the child in everyone.
But on its final installment, director and writer Dean Deblois gives us an entirely new story that pushes further the themes that were already established in the first two movies. It never rests on what has worked before. Hiccup, Toothless, his partner Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), his mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett) and the rest of the gang face a new threat to the human and dragon utopia that they’ve turned their tiny village of Berk into.
The story keeps moving and they don’t return to old gags and bring up old themes.
Now, with the threat of poachers and trappers coming to their dragon-filled village continuously, Hiccup must solve a problem of space, constant threat of attack, and the pressures of the village for him to marry. At the same time, Toothless may have found an elusive Light Fury, a female dragon of the same species, and this may threaten the bond of kinship that exists between human and dragon.
In just the first half hour, themes on refugees, generational differences in the thoughts of marriage, security and safety, and what makes a leader are brought up that it feels organic to this world and this story, without ever losing sight of the strain the appearance of this Light Fury has put on Hiccup and Toothless’ friendship.
The movie is so confident in the world that it has established that it can take a good five to ten minutes on a dialogue-less courtship between Toothless and this possible mate. There are times in the first two movies that Hiccup’s dragon acts like a pet rather than an equal until the movie reminds you what their relationship truly is. In this film, Toothless is never a pet, even when he plays fetch with Hiccup’s prosthetic leg. It’s a dragon game that’s akin to a dog’s game but Toothless is not Hiccup’s dog.
They are friends and I think what this movie eventually says about friendship is one of the most mature and beloved animated films in the past decade. It’s the evolution of a friendship with wonderful things to say that will have very different meanings for a child and an adult when they view it together in the cinema.
The fact that it touches these feelings from a main character with a name as comedic as “Hiccup” and his cute, cartoon dragon with dog and cat like mannerisms shows how well-crafted these movies are -- storytelling with its soaring music, stunning visuals, great action sequences, and its ability to capture the joy of living side-by-side with a dragon.
‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ was a highly anticipated third and final act and it did not disappoint at all. It was everything that I wanted for the series and a wonderful way to say goodbye to such beloved characters.