With How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World in theaters this weekend, The animated series has been a Dreamworks powerhouse since its first release in 2010. Audiences of all ages were stunned by the visuals and captivated by the thematic elements of the story surrounding Hiccup, a skinny and kind-hearted vikings voiced by Jay Baruchel, and Toothless, the feared obsidian dragon known as a Night Fury.
The trilogy follows the story of the relationship between vikings and dragons. The first movie followed Hiccup's struggle to convince his fellow vikings that humans and dragons could co-exist, and at the end of the movie, we see the beginning of a human-dragon utopia in Berk. It was an origin story packed with everything you want in a fantasy origin story: an underdog protagonist, rich world building and a narrative with complex interpersonal relationships and motivations.
The second film dives right into the Berk utopia that Hiccup has curated. But more importantly, it addresses the problems that come along with having such a high concentration of dragons at a single location in a world obsessed with killing or controlling dragons. A series of events brought us to a final fight between Toothless and another-massively larger-alpha dragon, which ended up being the pinnacle of the series. It was the moment that both Hiccup and Toothless fell into their roles as leaders.
And it was the success of those two movies, the wonder of the first film, and the raw excitement of the second movie, that placed an expectation on The Hidden World that the series had to live up to.
And, in the end, while The Hidden World was still a powerhouse in its own right, it did not live up to its own expectations, and that is OK, because while it might not have been perfect, it was still really, really good. The story felt like a means to an end, as though director Dean DeBois knew exactly what ending he wanted to give his audiences, and rather than focus on the story of The Hidden World-which felt strikingly similar to the plot of the second installation-the narrative instead drove itself quickly to the ending scenes.
There were definitely high points in this iteration of the How To Train Your Dragon story. The first time Toothless flies on his own with Hiccup, Toothless courting the new Light Fury and Toothless, Toothless commanding his hoard of dragons-and most of the other sequences that involve Toothless.
Unfortunately, other than a few emotional beats between Hiccup and his cat-like dragon, the writers left Hiccup's development with much to be desired, which is also partly where the movie begins to falter. This movie wasn't as wondrous as the first, nor was its action as gripping as the second, but what it did provide was a satisfying ending that left the audience feeling both optimistic and gutted. It was not a fairy-tale ending, but it was one that felt honest and helps its audience understand what exactly it means to let go.