In 2010, I was OG MoviePass. Back then, it cost you $30/month and didn’t have all the same rules. But I also didn’t have cable and there was a theater I could walk to from my apartment, which means there is a specific period of time in which I have seen ALL the movies. And some are spectacular duds. (I’m looking at you Cop Out, alleged buddy cop vehicle between Bruce Willis and Tracy Jordan.) But it also meant that I stumbled into some really great movies that I may not have otherwise seen. And the first installment of the How to Train Your Dragon series was one those films; I immediately went and called up my crew and said, “We have to go see this together.” And hardly anything gets that level of endorsement from me.
And while I don’t hold the second film in the series in such lofty regards, I also wasn’t disappointed in it. Which meant that when the opportunity for me to see the third installment of the series How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World early came, I was there for it. Because I think the series (and the third movie) have some really great themes and ideas that a lot of animated movies don’t.
First of all, there is growth of the characters. Especially in animated films, you run this remarkable danger of basically hitting the reset button at the end of one movie or start of another and losing all the growth and development that has happened in the characters. This franchise instead really lets us see the characters advance. Hiccup goes from a young teen to the leader of his tribe over the course of the series and we get to see all the ways he grows, some through his intellect and vision for the future but also some of his growth is through his failures and harder lessons learned; that is a remarkable thing for an animated movie series! But it also just isn’t the main lead of Hiccup; we watch his entire village eventually become partnered with dragons, whereas before, they wanted only to slay them.
Second, there is a sense of nobility in these films. Now, I don’t mean nobility in the sense of a royal court; instead the nobility in these films is watching as characters try to decide what is the best thing to do. Heroism means sacrifice in some cases, and these films don’t stray away from that too much. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that the third installment of the series has some of these same themes of how to decide to do the right thing, as a group, as a village, as a friend and as an individual hero. And, we could use some of that nobility now. I saw the film with a theater packed with kids and it was very cool to hear some of the younger ones talk about a very noble, but painful decision that one of the characters has to make. It wasn’t that they didn’t understand the cost to that character; it was that they did and wondered if they could be so brave.
Third, this is just really quality production. You have to admire the world that they have managed to build over the course of the three films. It is a beautiful place where the seas, the lands and the air all play dramatic roles. The beauty of watching the dragon riders soar across the sky is matched by how the village has changed to welcome all the dragon friends and how the wilderness shows itself still. Visually, it is a beautiful film that is made even better by the cast. Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup is just the best, but really there isn’t a bad casting job on any of the voices. They all work really hard and I am grateful that they allow different kinds of native accents to just show up and exist in the world that they have created. The deep Scottish brogue of Gerard Butler works perfectly alongside America Ferrera’s Astrid. That melting pot of voices is no small thing and, again, part of what I think makes the series lovely.
All of which is to say, you should go see How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden Valley. Without spoiling anything, it is a nice bookend to the series, advancing the story in a way that is meaningful, well done and a great lesson for kids and adults. It is definitely worth seeing when it hits the broader release on February 22nd, here in America.