It’s rare enough to have a sequel be as good or better than the original, but for a movie to actually have two sequels that are worthwhile is rarer still. When the original How to Train Your Dragon film came out in 2010, it was a huge hit, and a critical success (98% on Rotten Tomatoes). Then, when the sequel came out in 2014, all of those who loved the first were naturally skeptical and nervous—usually these endeavors end up being pure money grabs lacking any creativity or ingenuity—but, lo and behold, the sequel did almost as well at the box office and with reviewers, still cracking the coveted 90% mark on Rotten Tomatoes (final rating on RT was 92%). There were many fans of these movies that felt it still never got the love it deserved though, playing second fiddle to the bigger, more marketed and flashier Pixar and Disney animated movies of the last 10 years. Well, now maybe with the final movie in what can now officially be called a trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World may finally bring the much-beloved films some much-deserved attention. Let’s not continue to ignore these wonderful films the way we are ignoring the similarly excellent Paddington movies.
I will admit, I am a shameless fan of How to Train Your Dragon. Director of all three movies, Dean DeBlois, and all the rest of the creators of this series have managed to strike the perfect tone with these movies, the perfect balance between saccharine and serious, infusing the series with a joy and sense of wonder that you just don’t see too often. It may not have the artistic or philosophical bent of a Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, or the weepy heart-tug of a Toy Story, or the lightning-in-a-bottle cultural relevance of Frozen, but what these movies do have is charm and simplicity. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I mean it doesn’t bite off more than it can chew and its stories are basic yet relatable. These films know their strengths lie not in fancy animation or a complicated story, but in the characters and how they relate to each other. Everything else is secondary to those relationships and that’s why these movies work so well and are so popular.
All that being said, it’s surprising how deep these movies can be when you think about it. So many basic themes are touched on, including fathers and sons, mothers and sons, friendship, first love, love of country and home, and a search for your place in the world. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling something deep in your chest and wonder how it got there, because you were too busy enjoying the delights and charms of Toothless and his friends.
Now don’t get me started on Toothless, my favorite animated character perhaps ever. More than anything else, these movies are about Toothless’s journey. Toothless, for those who don’t know, is the titular dragon of the series. In the first movie, Toothless meets Hiccup, an awkward Viking teenager (voiced by Jay Baruchel) who doesn’t know how to live up to his imposing and powerful father, who happens to be the king of all the Vikings. Toothless and Hiccup become best friends and the rest of the first movie, as well as the sequel, are the adventures they take together as they both overcome their individual insecurities and their friendship grows. Vikings and dragons are supposed to hate each other and kill each other. Well, Toothless and Hiccup changed all that—and changed their worlds. But now, in the third and final installment of the series, both Toothless and Hiccup have done what we all have to do, no matter how we may not want to—grow up. And growing up often brings different priorities and different feelings. And sometimes growing up is about letting go. And this is perhaps why I love this franchise so darn much. The makers of this movie don’t linger or ruminate on these facts of life, instead they let them all play out naturally and believably, with dignity and love.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is not perfect. There is a story thrown into the mix that involves a villain (voiced by F. Murray Abraham) that I feel is completely unnecessary, but I understand the desire to keep the movie’s energy up because so much of the rest of the movie is about how life forces us to make new choices and to make the RIGHT choices, even when they might hurt. No matter what though, this final movie of the trilogy wraps up the story wonderfully and gives us everything we need to say goodbye and be (somewhat) ok with it. Now I’m going to go hug my Toothless stuffed animal and have a good cry.