A touching capper to an all-timer animated trilogy.
Despite a jarring change to their classic pre-feature fishing reel, Dreamworks are an established institution of animated gems. From religious sagas to ogres and donkeys, their films remain a cherished part of childhoods across the globe. At the turn of the decade, they released How To Train Your Dragon, a dazzling, hearty friendship tale which led to an even better sequel and now this final instalment, The Hidden World; a staggering feat of animation and emotional finish to a trilogy that deserves way more credit in the stacked world of cartoon delights.
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is enjoying a stressful but fulfilling life as chief; he has a steady relationship with Astrid (America Ferrera), and continues to rescue dragons and bring them back to Berk, a dual-species utopia. But with so much liberation comes overcrowding, and Hiccup turns to finding “The Hidden World”, an old myth his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler) used to to tell him about as a boy; a land where all dragons come from, buried at the end of the earth. Meanwhile, those who are left empty-handed by Hiccup’s heroics turn to Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), a feared hunter, to bring them back; with a plan to use a white female “Lightfury” as bait for Toothless.
The thing about the HTTYD series is its rather remarkable voice cast; in the mix, there’s Cate Blanchett, Kit Harrington, Jonah Hill and Kristen Wiig, among others. Everyone turns in an enthusiastic final turn, particularly Hill as loveably arrogant aspiring chief-to-be, clashing with Harrington’s gallant viking. But, in the spirit of finishing with a bang, Dean DeBlois (on writing and directing duties) sometimes loses a handle on the ensemble juggling act, taking attention away from the characters that carry the more thrilling scenes or chuckle-worthy moments.
Namely, I’m referring to Toothless. Essentially any scene that doesn’t involve the big-eyed favourite in one way or another is automatically lower in the food chain than the others. He’s always been the real star of the series as the ridiculously cute, loyal companion to Baruchel’s initially nervy Hiccup, and his newfound relationship with a fellow Night Fury here only provides more soul to his arc. The thematic crux of it all is parenting: the first saw Hiccup encourage this creature to trust and love him; the second saw them at the peak of their relationship, and here, they’re reaching the natural end of Hiccup’s childhood. He wants to go out and see the world, get a girlfriend and be with those like him – the way DeBlois closes this nine-year narrative is tear-jerking kicker for kids and parents alike.
From start to finish, the animation work never fails to stun. The level of rendering may sometimes pass you by, but if you look closely at the tiny facial details of the characters, the way shadows perfectly cast around the world, you’ll notice the paramount intricacy in every strand of hair and reflection on the water from above. It’s both enrapturing and a telling sign of how far cinema has come. Cinematographer Gil Zimmerman returns also, bringing rich detail to the heart-soaring, crystal-clear vistas in which the dragons fly; whether it be one or hundred, there’s awe to spare.
John Powell scores the feature with a playful composition, striking an acute balance between epic, complementary tracks to woodwind and percussion focused, more delicate sequences that are often joyous. The central mission could have used more weight to the stakes, with many turns lacking a real sense of surprise – but above those gripes, The Hidden World is just a delight. Poignant story beats keep the characters at the forefront of the spectacle, and the smallest filmmaking decisions stick; Hiccup’s disability, for example, is never alluded to, and the simple development of facial hair seems to make a climactic hug all the more powerful.
With this stunning crescendo, Dreamworks’ beloved series bows out beautifully.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm