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In Review: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

March 7, 2019 No Comment

Fire-breathing family fun

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third film in the animated How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, wraps up the loose ends for Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Astrid (America Ferrera), and the dragon-loving Vikings of Berk. It also provides a satisfying conclusion to the story of Toothless the dragon, Hiccup’s trusty black-coloured Night Fury, and the plight of the beleaguered hunted dragons.

This installment opens with Hiccup, Toothless, Astrid and assorted friends and dragons rescuing a group of dragons trapped by opportunistic warlords and returning them to the Isle of Berk. But the community is clearly overrun with rescued dragons and Hiccup’s utopian idealism is placing a strain on his people. The remainder of the film is a story of growing up and making responsible decisions while fighting off a deadly dragon hunter, Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), who is bent on hunting Toothless—“the last” of the Night Fury dragons.

The villain Grimmel is the least important part of the film and only serves as a plot-advancing mechanism. He’s never really a credible threat and that’s okay because he is the catalyst for important story developments. His baiting of Toothless using a white-coloured female Night Fury, which everyone refers to as a Light Fury, spurs Hiccup’s search for the dragon’s hidden world which would allow the people of Berk to live in peace with their dragons. Introducing the Light Fury provides an opportunity for romance for Toothless which in turn adds an increased amount of pressure for Hiccup and Astrid to finally make good on their talk of marriage. The search for the hidden world of the dragon also forces Hiccup to grow into the role of Chieftain of his Viking community and face his feelings of inadequacy while honouring his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) who had started the quest to find the hidden world. All of these are more interesting and enthralling than the threat posed by Grimmel the Grisly. But hasn’t that always been the case with these films? The heart of the films has never been the villains but the relationships and a continued coming of age narrative.

In this film the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless continues to develop mainly because of Toothless’ romance with the Light Fury. Hiccup, who had gone down this road with Astrid, provides support, advice, and encouragement to Toothless while at the same time giving the young dragon more freedom to act on his own. In the last film he learned that adults like his father Stoick and mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) actually know more than him and he must make his final steps into adulthood himself. In How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) Hiccup idealistically believed he could reason with the villain Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) but discovered that his father’s advice that he couldn’t reason with the villain was true. He learned this the hard way. When diplomacy failed and Hiccup was about to be killed his father stepped in to die in his place. Audiences who remember the events of the previous films will be rewarded as these details will give more weight to Hiccup’s struggle as he leads his people. Another interesting aspect of this film is that while Hiccup was almost entirely an idealistic dreamer in the first How to Train Your Dragon (2010), the character pendulum has swung in this film. He is not a rebel fighting against the traditions and ways of his people; he is now the Chief with the authority his father once exercised in the community. In this way How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a rather unconventional film presenting a positive view of authority and the struggle a good leader faces balancing being true to their vocation with the needs of those they serve.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a rather unconventional film presenting a positive view of authority and the struggle a good leader faces balancing being true to their vocation with the needs of those they serve

After watching the film Christian families may want to take the opportunity to review the 4th Commandment with their children: Honour your father and your mother. What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” Hiccup did not always keep this commandment in previous films but does so more consistently in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. This is part of his growth as a character. Throughout this film the secondary characters in Berk provide support to Hiccup as Chief showing their love as they serve, obey, and honour him. From Astrid, with her encouragement, to Tuffnut (Justin Rupple) with his advice to Gobber (Craig Ferguson) with his kindly deference, they are shown as people who cherish Hiccup as Chief. Snotlout (Jonah Hill) is the only one who thinks he should be Chief and even though he thinks he should be next in line, he isn’t a villain conspiring with Grimmel and the Warlords. Snotlout is just full of himself and unaware of how poor he would actually be as a leader.

Christian families may also want to take the opportunity to review the 6th Commandment with their children: You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honour each other.” With Hiccup and Astrid, while clearly a couple, there is never a hint of engaging in premarital sex and only after they are married do they start to have children. This is refreshing. The parallel story of Toothless’ romance with the Light Fury follows a similarly traditional pure and decent pattern. And while How to Train Your Dragon 2 introduced the notion that Gobber was gay, this film doesn’t dwell on it. While there are a couple moments where Gobber seems infatuated with the reformed dragon trapper Eret, Son of Eret (Kit Harington) these moments are mild and may easily be missed. In How to Train Your Dragon 2 there was a fair amount of time spent on Ruffnut’s (Kristen Wiig) ogling of Eret but this is not the case in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. While still a dunderheaded character, Ruffnut is much more pure and decent.

Taken together these three films provide a rather positive story of a young boy growing into a man: a character who has to learn what it means to be part of a family and what it means to wield authority. Hiccup learns from his failures and grows in virtue. Overall this new film is funny, touching, and for those truly invested in the series even emotional. Hiccup lets go of his childhood and becomes a responsible adult and this maturing is never presented in a trite way.

Hiccup learns from his failures and grows in virtue

It will come as no surprise that by the end of the film the villain is vanquished, the dragons are safe and sound in their hidden world, and the people of Berk, while relocated to a new island, understand that Berk is more about people than a place. While How to Train Your Dragon as a film franchise basically grows up with The Hidden World it doesn’t completely lose its utopian notions. The final thought provided for audiences is that if people learned how to live in harmony then the dragons would return and there would be a blissful age of dragons and humans living together. While Christians know that in this life there will always be a need for confession and absolution, for the forgiveness of Jesus, they may want to take this notion presented at the end of the film and talk to their kids about the hope they have together in Christ Jesus for the new heaven and the new earth promised by Him in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Essentially, a utopia will never be achieved in this world but in the world to come in Christ, true harmony will be experienced by all who are in Christ Jesus.

The animation in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is great, the dragons are fun and colourful, the music is wonderful, and the voice work is above average for these kind of films. It may not be the best film in the series but it ties them together in a satisfying and fulfilling way. There could have been a little less action so that some of the minor characters could have a bit more screen time and character development but this is a small complaint. With two TV series, Dragons: Riders of Berk (2012–2014) and Dragons: Race to the Edge (2015–2018), these characters have had a lot of room to breathe and grow. Families and audiences who have watched these films and shows for years will likely be very happy with director Dean DeBlois’ conclusion to his How to Train Your Dragon trilogy.

Rev. Ted Giese is lead pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; a contributor to The Canadian LutheranReporter; and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese.