Photographs from United International Pictures
Culture Movies

Review: The new How To Train Your Dragon is a visual spectacle, but the characters leave you wanting

Guess who needs, uhm, training? 
Andrew Paredes | Feb 19 2019

Written and Directed by Dean de Blois

Starring Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett​

The How to Train Your Dragon movies are really a coming-of-age tale—a boy-and-his-dog story that replaces the dog with a Night Fury. In this presumed final installment subtitled The Hidden World, our proverbial boy Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has taken full leadership of his viking clan from his deceased father Stoick (Gerard Butler, seen in flashbacks) while his dragon Toothless rules by his side, serving as an alpha to keep the dragons that co-exist with humans in line. But just as Hiccup faces the questions of young adulthood—such as when he’ll pop the question to his tough-love cheerleader Astrid (America Ferrera)—a dragon hunter with the look of a consumptive Billy Idol named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) appears on the scene, jeopardizing the clan’s fire-breathing friends. Another complication: Toothless, long believed to be the last of his dragon sub-species, finds a potential mate, pulling him away from Hiccup.

Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Photograph from United International Pictures.

HTTYD has always featured breathtaking visuals, particularly the elaborate flying sequences, which continue to enthrall with their nearly realistic sense of distance and height. The Hidden World aims to up the awe-inspiration by adding bigger set pieces like the opening rescue of caged dragons under cover of sea fog, as well as an Avatar-like sequence showing Hiccup and Astrid flying into the titular dragon utopia, where fire-breathing reptilesadopt a fluorescent translucence. And Toothless’ courtship dance with his white-scaled mate, seeming straight out of a BBC nature documentary, is a treat to behold. HHTYD’s weakness has never been its visuals—the problem lies with its character-building.

Photographs from United International Pictures

It’s relatively easy to trace the coming-of-age track of Hiccup in these movies. The first movie had him proving he belonged in his clan despite his obvious physical incongruities; the second had him looking to the past to find answers about his future. That’s why it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that writer-director Dean de Blois—despite the fact that he reportedly got the green light to map out the next two sequels after the first movie became a hit—didn’t give his protagonist a meatier conflict in this third installment than lingering self-doubt and using his dragon as a crutch for his insecurity.

F. Murray Abraham in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Photographs from United International Pictures

Grimmel as the villain gives the narrative some urgency, compelling Hiccup to make some difficult decisions—specifically, uprooting his clan from their home in search of a mythical refuge for their dragons. You’d think prevailing in many skirmishes over the course of two movies would have given Hiccup a measure of confidence by now. But instead, even in the face of unstinting support from his clan, Hiccup is crippled by uncertainty. It would have been much more interesting to have Hiccup face revolt from his subjects, forcing him to face the larger ramifications of his decisions.

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It would have also given the supporting players—which include stellar names like Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill and Kit Haringtonin a half-formed, ill-advised love triangle—more to do than stand around and pass the time in subplots that ultimately go nowhere. The conflicts feel manufactured, and that hollow, synthetic quality goes a long way toward explaining why theending lacks the sucker-punch emotion of, say, a Toy Story 3How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World looks gorgeous—it just doesn’t fly as high as it should.