Thursday, February 28, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Between this and Alita: Battle Angel, it's been a week for seeing movies with punctuation in the title and being kind of sad that nobody is making 3D/4K Blu-ray packages anymore, because they are both gorgeous and clearly made with that third dimension in mind. I don't know to what extent Jeff Katzenberg is still pushing 3D at Dreamworks now that at least the animation studio is part of Comcast/Universal, but this has always been the franchise there that really gets the most out of it.

One thing that I wonder, watching this, is the extent to which the series's audience has grown with it or been refreshed with each new release. Five years ago, I found it kind of odd that the characters had aged in real time between the first and second movies, while now I find it equally interesting that they haven't. How has someone who was eight or nine when the first of these movies came out in 2010 had their relationship with them change, and to what extent are kids streaming the originals before the new one comes out.

Another thing I'm glad I've had called to my attention about this series lately is just how good John Powell's score is. It hasn't exactly burned itself into my head the way the big Williams ones have, but it really enhances the films in the moment. It certainly winds up a big part of why this series has proven itself a bit above a lot of the other animated films coming out of Hollywood, even if the two sequels have been more "very good" than the top-tier work the first one was.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 February 2019 in AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

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.

Full review at EFilmCritic

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