“How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World” review

Outstanding finale for the beloved franchise! Bring your tissues because you’re going to need them. Return to the colorful, immersive world of dragons for the final chapter in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. We were first introduced to Hiccup and his cat-like dragon Toothless–probably the most adorable dragon ever–nearly a decade ago, and Hidden World delivers a beautiful story that takes full advantage of Dean DeBlois’ epic fantasy world of highflying adventure and heart. Unlike franchises in the cinema or on television that depict the key characters the same age in perpetuity, HTTYD allows its characters to mature and grow in complexity. This growth enables the audience to identify and empathize with the animal and human characters thus giving the film incredible emotional weight. Not only do the characters demonstrate personal growth over the nine years we’ve been enjoy Berk and all its wonders, they exhibit tangible evidence of interpersonal societal growth as this Viking kingdom learns to love and cherish creatures they once feared. Toothless takes center stage as he too, along with our friends from Berk, must grow up. Both Toothless and Hiccup experience the powerful dynamic of love as it greatly affects one’s actions. While many were wondering if this trilogy could pull off a Toy Story 3, after the immense success of the first two, especially HTTYD2, suffice it to say, DreamWorks Animation delivers a superlative animated motion picture complete with all the feels.

IMDb Summary: What began as an unlikely friendship between an adolescent Viking and a fearsome Night Fury dragon has become an epic adventure spanning their lives. Welcome to the most astonishing chapter of one of the most beloved animated franchises in film history. Now chief and ruler of Berk alongside Astrid, Hiccup has created a gloriously chaotic dragon utopia. When the sudden appearance of female Light Fury coincides with the darkest threat their village has ever faced, Hiccup and Toothless must leave the only home they’ve known and journey to a hidden world thought only to exist in myth. As their true destinies are revealed, dragon and rider will fight together—to the very ends of the Earth—to protect everything they’ve grown to treasure.

As immersive and excellent as the film’s visuals are, the characters are even more complex and deep. In fact, the film depicts one of the best friendships of any film ever. The key characters, and even the supporting cast, demonstrate love, loss, maturity, growth, and more. Although this is the final installment in the franchise, the characters are still treated with finesse and given room to grow within the movie and to complete the arcs for the trilogy. Often, Toothless and Hiccup parallel one another; they possess traits that complement one another. This added complexity to their respective characters gives them so much depth. Making an emotional connection with and evoking empathy from the audience is such an important element of the character development process. Hidden World builds upon the previous stories of finding one’s destiny in a friendship with the most unlikely of creatures (chapter 1), external and internal complexities with the new friendship and changing familial dynamics (chapter 2), and coming of age by learning from the past and letting go of that which hinders freedom (chapter 3 Hidden World).

More than a commentary on independence or freedom, this film chooses to depict complex emotions such as love between friends, family, and romantic love. And these subjects are not just talked about–exposition would be too easy and lazy–there are many moments that are visually driven, thus increasing the level of emotional impact. One of my favorite moments that deals with both the letting go of the past in order to bloom and grow is the courtship dance scene between Toothless and the Light Fury. Love is not without sacrifice. And in the exploration of relationships and independence, we are reminded of the emotional cost associated with these concepts. Paralleling this exploration of relationships between lovers, family, and friends is the journey of rising to the call and becoming a leader of one’s people. It’s the ideal journey for this final installment because it completes the hero’s journey for Hiccup and Toothless. In the first movie, both Hiccup and Toothless are outcasts, nerdy, and childlike. In the secondary film, they go through both physical and emotional growth learning the complexities of life. And the tertiary film Hidden World builds upon the previous two films by us watching this teen and young dragon grow up to realize their respective places in the world to become the leaders of their people (or dragons). We go from kid to king. So simple, but so perfect.

It’s easy to get swept up into this epic fantasy because we spend so much time with these characters. Not only do we spend movie time with the key characters, but we spend some intimate time with them as well. We see these characters at their best and worst. The individual stories of the three films and the overarching story that exemplifies the three-act structure are not afraid to bloody your characters. As real like people and dragons are not perfect, neither are the characters in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. We are drawn to their flaws, the majority of which are in the second chapter but we continue this high level of humanity in the third film. Change is a big part of life, and the theme of change is witnessed in the individual lives plus in the Berkian and Dragonian communities. Utopia is not without its negative impacts. One of those for Berk is overcrowding with the side effects of being more of a target to those who are still hunting dragons. Hiccup must decide whether Berk is a place or a state of mind. But he must also consider the safety and future of the dragons. More complexity. There is no one solution that will benefit everyone. So sacrifices must be made. This motif of chance incorporates the overall theme of love and sacrifice.

The visuals are breathtaking! While some animated trilogies suffer the longer the franchise goes on, the quality of the animation in this film is outstanding! In many ways, it out-Pixars Pixar. Like with other films, if this one had a Pixar logo on it instead of DreamWorks, then more people would be singing its praises. With more dragons, there was certainly room to cut corners and for the quality of the visuals to suffer. Not true with this film! The attention to detail is superb! As beautiful as the dragon flight scenes were in the first and second movies, Hidden World delivers an even more epic flight scene in this film. Wish I had seen this movie in IMAX. During the flight sequence into the Hidden World of dragons, I was reminded of Navi River Journey and Flight of Passage in Pandora: the World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Never felt like a ripoff, but certainly feels inspired by the attraction. We encounter three worlds in this film: Berk, the new island, and the hidden world of dragons. Each of these worlds is designed completely differently from the rest. And the commitment to the art of animated world creation reaches incredible heights! Every scene, every moment, every setting is completely immersive.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration Nighttime Spectacular

Last night saw the first official Cinematic Celebration at Universal Orlando Resort. Although the show has been in technical rehearsals since the beginning of the month, the official debut was Monday evening. Fortunately, the biggest difference between the show in rehearsal and the official opening is the opening narration. An excellent touch! Replacing the previous version of this show, the new iteration focusses on intellectual properties that have a presence in the parks versus a tribute to Universal Pictures’ cinematic legacy. In terms of the show technology, water fountains, and special/pyro effects, the new show is a major win!

From the moment the show begins with an excellent narration setting the context for the show to the breathtaking dancing fountains, you will be awestruck by the sheer spectacle of it all! The combination of water, pyro, laser, and projection effects is outstanding. It truly feels like a cinematic experience! There is something for everyone in this show. My favorite parts were Jurassic World and E.T. the Extraterrestrial. You’ll also find clips and scenes from Trolls, Transformers (which includes scenes from the attraction), Fast and Furious, Despicable MeHarry PotterHow to Train Your Dragon, Sing, Secret Life of Pets, and Kung Fu Panda. In addition to the water screen projections, the buildings on the opposite side of the lagoon are also integrated into the show. Incredibly immersive. My sister was impressed! Which was important to me because we have been going to Universal since the early 90s, and like to experience new attractions and shows together whenever possible. She lives out of state, so we try to time it just right when new offerings open! Helps to create lasting #UniversalMoments.

Beginning with last year’s Magic of Hogwarts Castle show, Universal Orlando has been stepping up its game in the nighttime spectacular competition amongst Florida theme parks. For years, it has largely been thought, and accurately so, that Disney World was the king of nighttime shows. With the introduction of the Hogwarts Castle show and the new Cinematic Celebration, Universal shows that it is a formidable opponent in the arena of nighttime shows. Not only is the show impressive from a technological perspective, the music is fantastic and the combination of water screens, projections, and pyrotechnics is top notch. You will certainly be wowed by the dazzling array of lights, movie clips, water effects, and more. Whereas the previous nighttime show had some water effects (and of course the water screens), this show makes the famous one in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas look like something you put together in your back yard. The water fountains beautifully dance along with the music and accompanying images from the film selections. Whereas some shows with many fantastical effects and elements can feel like many separate parts thrown together in a tossed salad, so to speak, this show seamlessly blends all the elements together to generate one show, one experience. The manner in which the show is designed allows for Universal Orlando to update it with different films as the interests of the park guests change.

Of all that this show has going for it–and it IS a great show–I cannot help but wonder why Universal fails to include any mention of its history, the fact that it essentially birthed the American horror film, and other iconic properties of the entertainment giant. Obviously, the goal was to connect the show to the in-park IPs, but the show like it was nearly all spectacle and little narrative to speak of. Thankfully, the narration at the beginning does help to add context, but the experience of watching the show leaves me wanting more. Leaves me wanting more, in that I was looking for something with more emotion behind it. In my opinion, she shows lacks a strong ability to make an emotional connection with the audience. This is often the result of a themed attraction or show that focuses so much on the spectacle of the show, that it falls short of containing a strong narrative. One of my favorite quotes is, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling” (C.B. DeMille); but unfortunately, the new Cinematic Spectacular does not live up to the art of storytelling, but instead concentrates on the spectacle of show.

Although I have highlighted some elements of the show that I am disappointed in, don’t get me wrong, it is a fun show that is well-worth the time to find a great place from which to watch. You should definitely make the time to see the show during your visit to Universal Orlando. The best place to view the show is from the Central Park area of Universal Studios. I watched it from the waterside behind the big boulders. Presently, the show begins at 9:45 in the evening and guests begin to select viewing locations about 30-45mins before showtime. As the show just officially began, you may want to allow for an hour to find a great spot from which to watch the show. Definitely a show that you don’t want to miss.

For some highlights from the show, please see our video!