Film Review: ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’: Needed More Zooming and Booming

BY Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years’ experience as a New York professional actor, working in theater, commercials, and soap operas. He has a classical theater training and a BA in philosophy from Williams College. As a voice actor, he recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook, “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World.” Mark's professors suggested he become a professional writer. He became a professional actor instead. Now he writes professionally about acting. In the movies.
February 17, 2019 Updated: February 18, 2019

PG | | Animation, Action, Adventure | 22 February 2019 (USA)

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” Let’s get right down to what you’re wanting to know: 1) Is it good for kids, 2) is it good for adults, and 3) is it as good as its predecessors?

It’s definitely good for kids, and seated behind me at the critic press screening was a nice, adult lady critic who told me, over and over, and over, and over, and over again, how much she loved this series of taming-the-dragon movies. And so there you have it—yes, and yes. And for No. 3—not really.

a boy and his dragon
Toothless the Night Fury (L) and his master, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount Pictures)

Now, the first one, which came out in 2010, was a story about a boy (Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his supercool pet; the coolness stemming from—nevermind the fact that any pet dragon is cool—this boy’s dragon was a Night Fury, not your run-of-the-mill fire-breather. Noooo. This special hot rod of a dragon spewed actual lightning! Those of us who enjoyed high school biology thrilled to the Night Fury’s design being more along the lines of an electric eel than, say, Smaug (the dragon in “The Hobbit”).

dragon spews lightning
Toothless, the Night Fury, manifesting his electrical powers in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount Pictures)

The sequel (2014) dealt with now-Hiccup’s-a-teenager issues. And this third installment grows Hiccup all the way up, to where he eventually grows a beard and looks remarkably like actor John Krasinski. And finally takes his place in the leadership lineage of this forefathers.

He furthermore defends his kingdom, establishes a new understanding of the proper relationship between dragons and humans, and ultimately releases the Kraken, er, Toothless his black Night Fury along with Toothless’s new girlfriend, the “Light Fury” (who looks like a cute, coy, white, winged newt), back into their natural habit. Hence “The Hidden World.”

black and white dragons
Toothless (L), the Night Fury, and his soon-to-be mate, the Light Fury, in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount Pictures)

Sounds good, right? But now that everyone’s all grown up, the original kid fun goes away a little bit. Now, we’ve arrived at the stage of “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” Like dragons. And so, therefore, this installment is not quite as awesome for kids as its two predecessors. Still quite good, though!

What Goes On

So, Hiccup is now king of Berk, an island village where humans live in harmony with their dragon pets. It sort of looks like parts of Brazil, very crowded, with everything and everyone stacked on top of each other. In fact, it has a slightly, amusingly, uncomfortably crowded, ghetto-ish look about it. I couldn’t help but think of the inevitable hygiene issues. Hercules and the stable of King Augeas came to mind.

Hiccup’s life’s mission is still as the leader of a dragon-rescue squad, liberating dragons everywhere from captivity. Which is why Berk is now overcrowded. The ineptness of Hiccup’s dragon-saving crew is more than compensated for by his hot-rod dragon’s outsized capacity for mayhem and routing enemies, to the point where it’s called into question whether Hiccup would actually be anything without his dragon.

Anyway, cue new bad guy: dragon-hunter Grimmel the Grisly (voiced by F. Murray Abraham in fine, disdainful form). His dragon philosophy is diametrically opposed to Hiccup’s—enslave ’em or kill ’em all! It’s slightly understandable, given his hench-dragons are sort of nasty, scorpion-like belchers of what appears to be green, hydrochloric acid. Yuck.

Dragon hunter and his nasty dragon steed
Grimmel the Grisly (voiced by F. Murray Abraham) in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount Pictures)

Grimmel’s coming for Toothless! It’s on! What to do?! Release all the Krakens! Dragons, I mean! Take them all back to their true home, far across the sea, and down in the depths of the oceans, via a secret portal!

a flying host of dragons
Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) leading his dragon kingdom to freedom in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount Pictures)

This is the best part of the movie, the hidden world, bringing to mind James Cameron’s “Avatar” world, looking sort of like a colossal subterranean aviary, the size of which dwarfs immense dragons to the point that they look like flocks of wheeling birds. There should have been more of this world.

in the Hidden World
Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) and Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount Pictures)

While Grimmel hunts for Toothless, Toothless has a beach courtship of his new(t) bride-to-be, which takes the form of many of the bird courtship dances you’ve seen on YouTube and Facebook. Quite cute.

a congregation of dragons
The Night and Light Furies as king and queen of the Hidden World, in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount Pictures)

And you’ll immediately start to conjecture about the look of the offspring of black Toothless and white Newt (that’s what I’m naming her). The nice critic lady behind me hoped loudly that one would be a tiny, white Light Fury, with a black ring around one eye, like Pete the Pup from the “The Little Rascals.”

And then there’s Hiccup getting married to Astrid (America Ferrera). Other returning characters are in flashbacks of Hiccup’s hulking Scottish dad (Gerard Butler), Viking Eret (Kit Harington), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), and Gobber (Craig Ferguson).

All in all, it needed more of what makes these movies excellent; it needed more of what Navy and Air Force fighter pilots refer to as “zooming and booming” (flying around at supersonic speeds): It needed more GoPro-type footage from the dragon’s-back cockpit. Because we all want to fly, and flying dragons would be so lovely. Similar to the “SNL” skit “More Cowbell,” here, it would be more zooming and booming.

There won’t be another “Tame Your Dragon” movie, but if the new, James Cameron-produced “Alita: Battle Angel” is any indication, we can look forward to some excellent zooming and booming in his next “Avatar.”

A stand-alone tail for Toothless
Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), and Toothless in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount Pictures)

‘How to Your Dragon: The Hidden World’
Director: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Kate Blanchett, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Kit Harington, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, Justin Rupple, Craig Ferguson
Rated: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 22
Rated 3 stars out of 5

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