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Awesome: 22.22%
Worth A Look66.67%
Average: 0%
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Total Crap: 11.11%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
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by Jay Seaver

"A muted finale but a beautiful film."
4 stars

Give DreamWorks credit for knowing when they're done with something, even when the temptation to keep a successful series going must be strong, as when the "Madagascar" series stumbled upon its end and didn't fight it. They probably could have stretched "How to Train Your Dragon" out a while longer, but there's not a whole lot more to say, to the point where they kind of have trouble building a new story. Fortunately, the series still has just enough of what makes it work to glide in for a satisfying landing.

As the film opens, it's been about a year since the events of the last movie, with Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) the new chief of the Vikings on the isle of Berk, not just living in harmony with their dragons but rescuing others held in captivity. It's becoming difficult - not only are they running out of room, but they're making enemies of those less inclined to see dragons as friends. The latest is Grimmel (voice of F. Murray Abraham), a hunter with a special obsession for killing Night Furies like Hiccup's dragon Toothless. Hiccup suggests they find the legendary homeland and relocate there, and in the meantime, Toothless has become infatuated with a newly-appeared female Night Fury, not aware the Grimmel is using her as bait.

The Hidden World can feel kind of familiar at times - another dragon hunter, another fleet aiming to use dragons as weapons for conquest, Hiccup once again looking to the horizon and uncertain about his ability to lead despite the strong support of girlfriend Astrid (voice of America Ferrera). There are more supporting characters running around the island than writer/director Dean DeBlois has a place for, including a couple that were pointedly added to the cast last time around. Credit is due DeBlois for choosing to plug ahead doggedly, not rolling anything from the previous movies back or having anybody act out of character, but a lot of the story is a bit perfunctory, including the climactic final battle. It's what he needs to get to the moments he wants to put on screen without betraying the relationship the audience has built with these characters over the past decade, but not a lot more.

Which, for this particular movie, is fine. DeBlois and company have things to show the audience, and use the script to bring the audience there. Indeed, the movie comes most alive when they fully just let the animators loose rendering dragons, slowing things down to let the pantomimed courtship of Toothless and "Bright Fury" play out or taking a tour of the hidden world. Some of the most memorable scenes have the humans doing little more than watching from cover, enraptured by color and motion the same way the audience is. It's pure filmmaking carefully constructed in a way that is quite specific to animation, with acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins assisting DeBlois and head of layout Gil Zimmerman to create imagery that is genuinely stunning (and which combines colorful character animation with photo-real environments more seamlessly than many films manage). With John Powell's lovely score making these scenes twice as beautiful, there's not much need for more in those moments.

Happily, the film isn't just a few striking dragon scenes that look fantastic in 3D and a bunch padding. Much of Hiccup's story here is more incremental than transformative compared to the previous films, but it's communicated well, with Jay Baruchel's voice showing the confidence that comes from his previous adventures even when he's wrestling with doubt, and I like that the animators give him a little bit of peach fuzz to both mark him as a young adult rather than a teenager and emphasize that he's often pushing himself too hard to take care of necessities. The film presents Hiccup and Astrid as partners who already trust each other implicitly even if they're initially nervous about actually getting married, with nice voice work from America Ferrera. Grimmel often seems to exist primarily to fill the space left by the previous film's Drago Bloodfist, but between the animators and F. Murray Abraham, there's an specific sort of evil to him, an intelligence and wit at odds with the sheer pointlessness of his cruel goals. He's Hiccup's opposite, destroying for no good reason rather than trying to find ways he can do good.

DeBlois and his team don't necessarily hit that as hard as they could, although maybe they don't need to; the kids who saw the first when it came out are graduating high school and college now and can figure it out. It's still a bit of a muted finale, but that occasionally works in its favor: There's a nobility in how the film accepts endings, and even the epilogue shows a way to more wonder, it feels appropriate that the film ends with the feeling of a legend rather than just an exclamation point.

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originally posted: 03/01/19 05:22:16
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User Comments

3/03/19 Eggbert Sandwich A quite stunning masterpiece, absolutely astounding. 5 stars
3/01/19 Bob Dog "The Uncanny Valley" would be a better subtiltle for this insipid film 1 stars
2/22/19 Louise (the actual one) A marvellously entertaining movie, one of the years best. 5 stars
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  22-Feb-2019 (PG)
  DVD: 21-May-2019


  DVD: 21-May-2019

Directed by
  Dean Deblois

Written by
  Dean Deblois

  Jay Baruchel
  Cate Blanchett
  Gerard Butler
  Kristen Wiig
  T.J. Miller
  Jonah Hill

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