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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 5/21/2019

All Ratings out of
Audio: ½

Review by Sydny Long, Posted on 5/21/2019

Animated movies have a reputation. While recent efforts from Disney have bucked a few immature conventions of the genre and Pixar films continue to draw praise and support from every age demographic, animation is still widely considered a medium meant exclusively for children. This status isn’t entirely unearned. Though animation has been used to tell a staggeringly diverse array of stories, the most culturally prominent uses of the medium tend to be the blandly inspiring, merchandise-generating CGI efforts of studios like DreamWorks and Illumination—all of which are squarely aimed at children. These movies often try to convey some important message or theme—typically of the “be yourself” variety—but most are unconcerned with incorporating mature subject matter. One notable exception to this rule is DreamWorks’​ How to Train Your Dragon​ franchise, a now trilogy that has all the trappings of a typical family-friendly animated film with its goofy characters and toy-friendly dragon designs. However, the movies stand head and shoulders above their peers for their willingness to tackle challenging subject matter, including war, disability, and the death of a parent. Does the third movie in this unconventionally mature franchise live up to the sky-high standards set by its predecessors? 


How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World​ opens one year after the previous film and finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) still adjusting to his role as chief of his island. When he’s not figuring out how to best lead his people, he is leading missions to rescue trapped dragons from other nations with his feisty fiancee Astrid (America Ferrera), brash Snotlout (Jonah Hill), dorky Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Eret (Kit Harrington), and loudmouthed twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple). Their efforts are thwarted by famed dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), who has driven the Night Fury species to near-extinction and plans to finish the job by luring in Hiccup’s beloved dragon companion Toothless with the last female Night Fury alive. Grimmel’s hunt forces Hiccup and his people to leave their island home with the dragons they’ve spent the last six years liberating, foisting upon Hiccup the difficult task of deciding whether to keep fighting or take his people to a mystical Hidden World to ensure the dragons’ safety.


As the summary above suggests, this film isn’t afraid to deal with more mature content. Between action sequences and comedic interludes, Hiccup has to agonize over the fate of his village and its people, which has suddenly been left to him in the wake of his father’s death. These scenes are rarely sugarcoated: the struggle to protect his island and the debate over relocation due to outside threats are presented with a surprisingly gritty realism that has since become characteristic of this franchise. Anxieties over leadership, commitment, and failure lend the otherwise overwhelmingly basic story—a villain appears and threatens the protagonists’ way of life—some dramatic weight.


Unfortunately, the rest of the movie fails to live up to its occasional pops of sophistication. As is the issue with the other franchise installments, the film fails to adequately develop most of its characters. A majority of Hiccup’s friends seem to exist solely to fulfill a character archetype, prolonging one-note gags that were already beginning to tire in the first movie. The fact that the celebrity voices often don’t match their character serves only to further diminish the mediocre dialogue (especially Kit Harrington, whose character is given so little to do that his bland voice-over work becomes excruciatingly noticeable). Even Hiccup—the compellingly flawed protagonist who motivated the first and second movie’s events with his rebellious, stubborn attitude—undergoes little growth, morphing instead into an insipidly heroic lead with no dimension other than a few interesting moments of insecurity about his newfound role as chief. The only bright spot in the cast is Toothless: his irresistibly adorable antics and cat-like mannerisms make him a constant source of delight whenever he’s onscreen.


Toothless, however, gets the short end of the stick in what should be his story. A substantial chunk of the movie is devoted to exploring Toothless’s courtship of and eventual mating with the female Night Fury—a Light Fury, as Astrid calls her—used to bait him. What should be an interesting exploration of Toothless’s own growth and independence from Hiccup is distilled into dry, sporadically cute sequences of Toothless trying to win her affections. These scenes are sometimes sweet, but for the most part, they are surprisingly dull and seem like window-dressing for an already thin storyline. It doesn’t help that the Light Fury is given little of the unique animation and behavior that made Toothless such an iconic character, making her nothing more than a prop. She doesn’t even get a name, despite becoming Toothless’s mate and mother to their future fledglings.


How to Train Your Dragon​, for all of its success, has always been somewhat scrambled in its intentions. On one hand, it is one of the most beautifully animated series of films ever produced, beating even Disney’s best with its impeccably rendered artwork and masterful score. There are moments of inspired brilliance in all three films, from the breathtaking flight sequences to the touching relationship between Hiccup and Toothless to the emotionally raw mediations on loss—whether that be loss of a limb, loss of a parent, or loss of a home. On the other hand, its humor has always been wincingly immature, its character designs somewhat unappealing, and its storylines usually storyline assembled. These issues were previously hidden by the strengths of the first and second film, but the third’s weakness brings these flaws to light. In spite of a sweet and fittingly gorgeous epilogue, this movie ends its franchise with a whimper instead of a bang.


How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World offers a lot of dragons and little else on 4K UHD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 75 Mbps.  The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials in what is clearly a digital-to-digital transfer.  The colors look fantastic and the image is never overly dark or bright, even in the especially dark opening.  The level of detail is great, as we can the work which went into the animation and the depth provide a quasi-3D look.  The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  Despite a somewhat low bitrate, we still get strong subwoofer action during the battle sequences, and the surround sound effects deliver distinct, individual sounds at times.


The How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World 4K UHD contains a surprising amount of extra features.  We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Dean Deblois, Producer Bradford Lewis, and Head of Character Animation Simon Otto.  There are five DELETED SCENES which run about 9 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary.  Some of these are low-res CG, while others are pencil animatics.  In addition, we get an “Alternate Opening” (3 minutes) which also have optional commentary.  “How to Voice Your Viking” (2 minutes) takes us into the recording booth to show the voice actors at work.  “Creating an Epic Dragon Tale” (4 minutes) has Deblois and his crew discuss their approach to this third chapter and what they hoped to accomplish with it.  “How I Learned From Dragons” (4 minutes) takes us back into the recording studio, but this time, we get to hear comments from the actors, who talk about their experiences on the film.  “Brave Wilderness Presents: Nature + Dragons = Awesome” (8 minutes) contains “Birds and Bats are Awesome” and “Animal + Animal = Dragon”, and ties in actual animals with the skills and look of dragons.  “The Dragon Sheep Chronicles” (3 minutes) examines the relationship between sheep and dragons.  “A Deck of Dragons” (3 minutes) offers trading-card like stats for the various types of dragons.  “Growing Up With Dragons” (4 minutes) looks at the arc of Hiccup’s character.  “The Evolving Character Design of Dragons” (3 minutes) allows the artists to talk about the look of the film, including the characters and the creatures.  “Drawing Dragons” (3 minutes) dives even deeper into the various types of dragons and their unique looks.  “Epic Villain” (2 minutes) offers a brief portrait of Grimmel.  “Astrid’s Whole Dragon Trilogy in 60 Seconds” (1 minute) is exactly what it sounds like.  “Welcome to New Berk” (2 minutes) is an odd piece which simply explains part of the movie.  We get two “Dreamworks Shorts”, “Bilby” (8 minutes) and “Bird Karma” (5 minutes), which are both animated.

Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long