I’m fond of the How to Train Your Dragon films. They are certainly so far beyond most of the movies to come out of Dreamworks Animation studios that it is hard to imagine that any one at any level in the same company is involved. Seriously, the difference between these films and Kung Fu Panda is equivalent of the quality chasm between Jaws and Sharknado.
With this high bar then don’t be too worried when I say that this third film isn’t as good as either of its predecessors, or possibly even the numerous associated TV shows. It just doesn’t really add anything. It does introduce us to a new secluded land, as the title states, and this is probably the best part of the movie but essentially all of the world building was done in one and two and much of this instalment feels very familiar. There are still some impressive aerial acrobatics and several endearing characters, both human and reptilian, in the ensemble but we’ve seen it all before. The antagonist, in particular, feels like a retread of the last film.
In fact, without any surprises to awe and distract, I became aware of some issues with that ensemble that had previously not worried me. It is no great spoiler to say that this film introduces a mate for the main domesticated lizard, Toothless. This may have been the film’s only twist but it’s at the centre of all of the marketing so the dragon is already out of the bag. With this additional female in the mix it is increasingly clear how nearly all of the girls in these films are sensible, reserved and wise whereas every boy is goofy, rash and comical. Still though the ladies are in the background. The only exception to this characterisation is Ruffnet who is a clear mirror of her twin brother Tuffnut. Hero Hiccup’s previously lost mother Valka was quickly pushed to the side in the last movie and stays there only really serving here as a crush for someone else. Astrid has always been these film’s saving grace when it comes to the gender politics but in this movie she really is just there to support and motivate the male lead.
In the end the film feels too derivative. There is even a plot point taken from the last Thor film and when there are only two big Viking film series out there, you’d think one would be hesitant in borrowing too heavily from the other one. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is perfectly entertaining, particularly for its target audience, but what is truly concealed and invisible is any revelation or innovation.
Is this one for the kids?
Absolutely. The film is rated PG and while there is very mild threat there is never any great sense of peril or anything scary like in The Rise of the Guardians (which is the other good film to have come from Dreamworks).