The Hidden World wraps up trilogy with a soulful conclusion
“20 years ago, filmmakers had to put their heart and soul into computer-animated films,” I ranted to my friend in the theater. We then talked about how low quality, soulless animation is saturating the industry. Preceding this discussion were three cringe-inducing trailers of low-rent animated movies that looked and sounded generic, bland, and miserable for anyone over the age of four to watch.
How to Train Your Dragon was always different. Watching it for the first time in 2010, it was like few other films I’d ever seen and stuck in my mind for several years afterwards. I remember the music, the breathtaking animation, the story, the drama, and the fantastic conclusion.
HTTYD 2 was a brilliant sequel to the first. I still firmly believe that it deserved to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film” over Big Hero 6, but it didn’t quite have the spark of the first one.
Now, we have HTTYD: The Hidden World, and right off the bat I’ll say that it’s not as good as the first film and about as good as the second. But, when you consider how epic its predecessors were, that’s still very impressive. The biggest issues I had with the film were a bland villain—a problem that the previous movie shared as well—and a slow-moving second act. But that’s where the problems end.
The animation is immaculately detailed, gorgeously rendered, and radiates warmth and depth. The Hidden World reminded me of the underworld from Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, but the ten years between that film and this one has made a striking difference. This is some of the best 3D animation I’ve ever seen, and I doubt even Toy Story 4 has the capability to top it.
Good trilogies are hard to come by these days. Usually a weak first or last film ruins something that could’ve otherwise gone down in history. Or, like the aforementioned Toy Story 4, greedy companies demand more sequels, ruining something that was perfect already. The HTTYD series is a rare example of a perfect trilogy. Each film stands on its own, yet creates something transcendent when put together.
The Hidden World also has one of the best conclusions in film history. It was a brutal punch to the gut. I want to describe it in as few words as possible because this is an ending that will have far less of an impact if spoiled. It left me shaking with emotion as I walked out the theater. Even several days later, feelings of melancholy, nostalgia, and tempered joy surged through my body as I thought about this film. It’s over; but it crossed the finish line in style.
This movie had so much to live up to, yet it delivered. Apart from a couple of minor flaws, it had me entertained, engaged, and invested throughout its runtime. In its final few minutes, it encapsulated everything the series represented: friendship, family, growing up, and the parallels between two different species. Snapshots of the previous films popped up during the end credits and reminded me of just how much I owed to this series.
I grew up with it. I grew up knowing what it was like being completely different from your father, and from there I connected with Hiccup. I grew up being distrustful of people, like Toothless, and slowly came to realize that there are many people worthy of trust. I grew up with a complex family dynamic, but in time, came to terms with that.
When film critics talk about the so-called “soul” of a film, it often ends up sounding pretentious. Soul is hard to describe. Soul is what a film has when its filmmakers tear out a part of themselves—a part of their unique human experience— and graft it into a film, and in doing so, touch the hearts of their audience. Seemingly intangible, it’s the most powerful effect a film can ever hope to have. The How to Train Your Dragon trilogy has soul.
While this may be the end of an era, it was an epic one. I’m more than proud to say that I grew up with The How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, and in 30 years, I’ll tell tales of the legend that it was. Ignore the rating at the bottom, this movie won something that can’t be articulated with a number. It won my heart.