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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Blu-ray)
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG // May 21, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted June 20, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

While every studio is tripping over themselves to kick start the next blockbuster universe, trilogy, what have you, before the first film is even cast, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has been building a wholly awe-inspiring and engaging family fantasy/adventure trilogy over the last ten years. The first movie was a pleasant surprise in the way that it not only avoided Dreamworks' then-prevalent animated family fare formula of tongue-in-cheek humor and pop-culture references, but created a fully realized and original fantasy world for any fan of the genre, child or adult, to chew on. At its core, the whimsical and exciting story of a Viking young ‘un named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) befriending a rare dragon called Toothless and learning to get along with dragons in a culture that feared and hunted them was a tender allegory on young adults paving their own way in life while standing up to tradition they deem to be wrongheaded.

The second installment did what every second film in a trilogy should do; expanding on the story's lore while raising the emotional and physical stakes for our heroes. With Hiccup and Toothless slightly older and more emotionally complex, the movie that surrounded them matched their more adult tone with an epic fantasy full of breathtaking battles and intense heroism. Underneath the spectacular visuals and gripping action was the next developmental challenge for Hiccup; he was forced to tangle with newfound responsibilities as he was being groomed for the chieftain position in his island hometown of Berk.

The third and hopefully final episode brings the story's allegory on the growing pains of teenage to adulthood full circle, as Hiccup, the new respected chieftain among his people, has to contend with his own independence as an adult as he comes face-to-face with the eventuality that his connected-at-the-tail friendship with Toothless might be coming to an end. This overall narrative glue that keeps the series of admittedly breathtaking action set pieces together might provide a bittersweet tone for fans of the series. Yet that also captures the bittersweet experiences we all face when we take our final steps into adulthood.

How sweet it is that a prime piece of exciting and visually captivating family entertainment can also double as an effective and deft guide for kids and young adults on what their future entails, and to face it not with fear, but with bravery and self-assurance. Every decent myth should come equipped with something tangible the audience can take and relate to within their lives, otherwise it's just empty spectacle. Writer/director Dean DeBlois, who's as close to providing a singular vision for the franchise as anyone else, was obviously fully aware of this and he sticks the landing with a tearjerking and emotionally empowering finale that focuses entirely on the characters.

Don't get me wrong; the spectacle itself is far from empty. The established visual majesty of this Viking utopia, full of foggy mountains and the clear blue sea as far as the eye can see get yet another upgrade with some new breathtaking locations, which include the titular Hidden World, a dragon paradise covered by a black hole in the middle of the ocean. The action, including an intense third act battle against pirate ships, can rival any blockbuster extravaganza geared towards older audiences.

The story revolves around Hiccup trying to find a new location that would keep the people of Berk and their dragons safe. After spending years rescuing dragons from captivity, the townspeople are understandably worried that the dragon poachers will soon retaliate, so Hiccup takes it upon himself to find the mythical Hidden World where humans and dragons can live in peace. Meanwhile, Toothless falls in love with a female night fury, dubbed a "light fury" thanks to her bright white skin. At first this addition feels like a cynical move by the studio to insert a new dragon protagonist to boost toy sales, but her introduction actually becomes key to Hiccup and Toothless coming to terms with their upcoming need for independence as they take the next steps in their development.

It turns out the townspeople are right in their paranoia, since the dragon poachers hire the greatest dragon hunter in the world, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), who looks so much like Roger Stone that I half-expected to see a Viking Richard Nixon tattoo on his back. Grimmel's a refreshing villain for the series, because he doesn't have any ideological hang-ups or world-dominating plans, he just loves his job of killing dragons. There's something alluring about a villain with such simple motivation. Even a brief monologue on why he hates dragons is overkill. As Hiccup gradually finds out that Grimmel might be his fiercest foe yet, will he able to save his people and the dragons in time?

To be honest, it cracked me up a little bit to see that the subtitle of the third film was The Hidden World, since the first two episodes also focused on Hiccup and Toothless finding a remote hiding place for dragons. It begs the question, are these hidden worlds really that mythical if the characters discover a new one once every five years? Apart from somewhat repeating himself in that sense, Dean DeBlois' script also can't figure out what to do with characters leftover from previous episodes. Hiccup's discovery of his long lost mother (Cate Blanchett) was a major plot point in the second film, but the character is relegated to being the punch line of a creepy running gag where one of hiccup's friends (Jonah Hill) keeps hitting on her. Yet these are just slight nitpicks for such a solid conclusion to such an endearing franchise.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Dreamworks, and especially this franchise is known for its popping bright colors, so a 1080p transfer without noticeable video noise and especially color bleeding is key here. Thankfully, this crisp and vibrant transfer passes with flying colors and is pretty much demo worthy, the way the Blu-rays were for the previous two films were. What's really gripping here is the contrast and depth in darker scenes draped in shadows and fog.

Audio:

The lossless surround track is busy pretty much during the entire runtime. Even during quiet scenes, the ambiance of the peaceful and natural sounds of the universe that surrounds the tale gives us full immersion. The dragon flying sounds are perfect to test your set-up's panning.

Extras:

Alternate Opening: A wholly unfinished alternate scene with optional commentary.

Deleted Scenes: 10 minutes of deleted material. Be warned, as it is with many animated films, a lot of these scenes are in rough form.

How to Voice Your Viking, How I Learned From Dragons: Two very brief but amusing EPKs about the actors' voice recording.

Creating an Epic Dragon Tale: Another brief EPK about how the universe of the story was extended for this chapter.

Nature + Dragons: Two brief nature clips about real animals that resemble dragons.

A Deck of Dragons: A quick line-up of new dragons introduced in this chapter.

Growing Up With Dragons: An emotional look into Toothless' arc across the three films.

The Evolving Character Design: An EPK on how the designs changed across the films.

Drawing Dragons: A featurette about the dragons' initial designs.

Epic Villain: A very short trailer about the film's main villain.

Dragon Trilogy in 60 Seconds: Astrid gives us a synopsis of the films in, you guessed it, a minute.

Welcome to New Berk: A bit of a spoiler if you know nothing about the plot, but it's about the tribe's new location.

Audio Commentary: Writer/Director Dean DeBlois is joined by producer Bradford Lewis for this in-depth analysis of the film. Recommended especially for budding animators.

Dreamworks Shorts: Bilby and Bird Karma run a swift 12 minutes.

Final Thoughts:

I wrote earlier that I hope this is the final installment, not because it's bad, but because it should end the way it does. That's why I selfishly hope that it doesn't make too much of a bundle at the box-office for the studio to force a new trilogy, or some other dumb idea like that. That'll do, dragon, that'll do. Don't overstay your welcome.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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