If you don’t know how to train a dragon by now…

The symbiotic pairing of Hiccup and his dragon Toothless crescendos in this third How to Train Your Dragon entry. Hiccup once lost a leg, Toothless a tail. Now Hiccup faces a possible marriage, and Toothless his first potential mate. Their shared coming of age story crests now, and with purpose.

Hidden World’s villain Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) isn’t a domineering presence, although Abraham’s voice work is stellar. He turns the heroes into a viking equivalent of Green Peace, letting captive dragons loose when captured at sea, while Grimmel sees no value in their existence. It’s an aggressive, critical stance akin to some eastern countries who won’t acknowledge animal intelligence.

Through their efforts, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless both become leaders of their species. They accept their new, changing roles for the good of others. That’s what Grimmel lacks – a sense unification.

Finishing How to Train Your Dragon with a tale of togetherness provides a typical, contemporary base of mainstream animation. “Better together” morals prod kids into treating one another better; anything in that effort is a bonus. Near the end, Hiccup states dragons will remain, “waiting for us to get along,” referring to ever-warring humans. Hopeless for adults, if keeping wide-eyed optimism alive for kids. Society needs that in a new generation.

… keeping wide-eyed optimism alive for kids

Hidden World doesn’t stretch itself though. It’s absolutely beautiful – jaw-dropping and marvelously so – yet routine. Splendid as it is to see hundreds (thousands?) of dragons panning by the screen simultaneously, that epic feel leads only to careful, sustained familiarity. Grimmel’s lack of connection to any greater story arc leaves him in “baddie of the week” territory. Side character interplay amounts to quips. They hardly factor otherwise. That’s minimal payoff.

All runs through Hiccup, the determined leader whose relationships and doubts weigh heavily. A child who was say, six or seven when How to Train Your Dragon first appeared is nearing high school graduation. Hidden World follows their own path toward adulthood. You can see it visually (Hiccup’s peach fuzz is evident) and in his maturing personality.

Hiccup’s struggles with apprehension. He doesn’t believe in himself or that he’s capable in his role. Hidden World leaves Hiccup in the expected place, if doing so on an inspiring note, hopeful orchestration and softened imagery through clouds the Hollywood touch. Assuming teens haven’t turned their attention away from “cartoons,” Hidden World guides them onto the world with a comfortable push.

Video

Here’s a fantastic display test disc. Hidden World will challenge even high-end displays to accurately replicate black levels. The darkest scenes around 50-minutes produce alluring shadows, falling to true black without a loss of shadow detail. Pure gradients keep depth even in a near total absence of light. It’s marvelous.

Same goes for the outstanding brightness, selling HDR with substantial power. In the first scene, Hiccup draws his fire sword, and flames reach a dazzling peak. Later, a trip through a luminescent land sings with color. Dragon fire erupts and sun-backed skylines reflect perfect cloud white.

Hidden World produces copious amounts of color too. Rich primaries in the viking homeland line the homes. All dragons draw their personality from scales, always richly vibrant.

Kudos is due to Universal/Dreamworks’ encoding. Fog and smoke envelops a number of scenes, free of compression faults. A mild case of shimmering on fine lines (especially hair) is introduced in the 2K upscale. That’s minor. Marvelous detail adds texture to the world, from skin to islands spilling over with rocks and trees.

Audio

In Atmos, Hidden World sends all manner of flying dragons around the soundstage. What splendor. Each creature is considered as they move around, creating a full, lush soundstage cognizant of each channel. Stereos factor in with the same frequency of the rears. Voices travel to match screen space.

It’s bass that’s absent, in particular during the first act. There’s almost nothing. Later there’s a jump in range, including the rumble of a waterfall, some boats toppling onto one another, and a few explosions. Those sound great, with needed immensity and scale. Something is awry early on, enough to draw unwanted attention.

Extras

Credit to director Dean DeBlois for being everywhere on this disc. He’s part of a commentary track, joined by producer Bradford Lewis and animator Simon Otto. DeBlois introduces deleted scenes and a separate alternate opening. Two Dreamworks shorts come up next. And after that, it’s all downhill with a flock of three or four-minute featurettes. Nothing is interesting beyond a short exploration of character design evolution, and even that runs flat – but DeBlois appears in everything.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Hidden World is a fine if predictable finale for How to Train Your Dragon, a series that grew along with its young viewers.

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