The Movie Guru: ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ a disappointment
How to train your dragon: the hidden world
Rated: PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.
Screenplay by: Dean DeBlois
Based on the book series by: Cressida Cowell.
Directed by: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig and more.
Grade: One star.
I expected to leave “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” teary and nostalgic. Instead, I left the theater feeling deeply uncomfortable.
Though not without its cute moments, a combination of bad writing and a poorly fitting ending deals some serious thematic damage to the movie. The hopeful tone of the first two movies — in fact, the entire theme of working together both movies were built around — has been left in the dust. In its place is an abrupt romance, sudden plot manipulations that feel shallow and tacked-on, and the ultimately alarming idea that peace and unity are impossible and we should stop trying to fight for it.
Most of the movie’s plot can be found in the trailers, and even the movie’s title is quite a spoiler. With that in mind, I’ll just say that the titular hidden world is full of dragons and there’s a new bad guy who wants to kill Night Furies. Toothless, the faithful companion of Chief Hiccup, is the last one left.
The ending is inspired by the one in the books, but here, the it directly contradicts literally everything the series has said or done in the first two movies. They try to justify the dramatic shift with “flashbacks” and plot points that don’t fit with the first two movies, then rushing the actual ending to try and hide all the logical holes that are still left. Instead, they follow you out of the theater and leave you bothered for days afterward.
Plot Points Ignored
With all the time and effort they try to pour into making the ending work, the other plot points are almost completely ignored. This is most frustrating with the movie’s main villain, who is lightly sketched out as a dark-mirror version of Hiccup. It could have been a fascinating exploration of the fact that choices have on our personality and lives, but he’s not given any depth at all. He’s just there as a bogeyman, moved about by the winds of plot.
The biggest problem with the taped-together story, however, is the messages it ends up sending to the audience. The way that the romance suddenly and instantly overwhelms everything else in the movie tells kids in the audience that romance is more important than friendship. You could even argue that it’s saying adults aren’t allowed to have friends, and abandoning your best friend is some sort of adult right of passage we have to go through. It’s an unhealthy concept at best, and actively damaging at its worst.
Far more insidious, however, is the idea that overcoming our differences is an impossible dream that will never work. In fact, the movie even seems to argue that fighting to overcome those differences and work together is unhealthy and damaging for both parties. That people, in the end, will and should always remain separate.
Not only does that spit directly in the face of the first two films, but it’s an incredibly toxic viewpoint in our world today. The fact that it comes from a series that I used to love so much is more disappointing than I could have imagined.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Anthony’s documentary film project chronicles post-war activities of the 10th Mountain Division.