All good things must come to an end.
The How to Train Your Dragon series – one of the very few animation franchises that manage to get better with every iteration and deepen the humanity of its computer-generated characters – finally takes its bow with The Hidden World.
The conclusion is aptly bittersweet, taking into consideration the crux of the series is not just to provide its mostly young audience colors and other forms of spectacle but to depict varying levels of coming to terms with loss.
In How to Train Your Dragon (2010), unlikely hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the hilariously scrawny son of a burly chieftain (Gerard Butler) of even burlier villagers, befriends a dragon he names Toothless and learns to rise above his physical inadequacies. He leading his village to get rid of its decades-old antagonism with dragons.
The first film ingeniously ends with Hiccup losing a leg, which gives him a spiritual attachment to his dragon who has lost a piece of its tail. However, the loss of the limb itself marks the franchise as one that has its characters endure permanent defeats and suffering, which in turn, pushes them to evolve and mature.
A more confident Hiccup turns up in How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014). He is now being groomed by his father to succeed him, most specially in a time where threats by dragon-hunters have risen because his village has become some sort of haven for dragons. The sequel ends with Hiccup reuniting with his mother (Cate Blanchett), but having to deal with another loss, caused by the death of his father. He is forced to lead a village of both men and dragons. Again, the franchise marries victory with tragedy, forcing its characters to deal with woe while indulging in celebration.
What The Hidden World puts into question is the one thing that drives the franchise, which is the harmonious relationship between humans and dragons. Hiccup, now the chief of his village, has been welcoming more dragons into their home, turning their once-humble hovel near the sea into an easy target for more dragon-hunters who have hired Gimmel (F. Murray Abraham), most famous for hunting down almost all Night Furies except for Toothless, to devise a plan to capture Hiccup’s dragons.
Bid for maturity
If The Hidden World’s bid for its final and most lasting maturity seems half-hearted, it is only because what preceded it had more impactful emotional triggers.
Hiccup’s decision to finally let go of the dragons that became his and his village’s crutch is eclipsed by death and dismemberment. The Hidden World crowds this impending choice with slivers of romance, as Hiccup is persuaded to wed Astrid (America Ferrera) to cement his leadership, and Toothless becomes enchanted by a pearl-white dragon. The third and final film to the franchise is busy and preoccupied with a lot of things, even if its storyline is as simple and straightforward as a group of Vikings being chased to the edges of the world by a wily hoard of thugs.
Still, the film provides enough spectacle to make it worth the narrative downtrend.
As always, the film’s brand of visuals isn’t blandly buoyant, rife with plain colors to the stunted enjoyment of children. The Hidden World features depth and shadows, presenting a world that despite a proclivity for light-hearted humor and juvenile silliness is still aware that danger is abound and that there is always peril just around the corner, ready to engulf everything. The film takes the franchise to a finish line that it deserves, where the fascinating mix of fantasy and reality finally takes a well-deserved rest.
The melancholy it evokes is very much earned.
Joy, wonder and woe
The Hidden World may not be able to match its predecessors’ sense of joy, wonder and woe, but it comes close enough.
The three How To Train Your Dragon never quite answers exactly how to train dragons, but it does offer a glimpse of how to manage love and eventual loss. The Hidden World ends the charming series with a note of both surrender to the inevitable and more importantly, hope for a brighter future. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.