I LOVE the first two How to Train Your Dragon movies from DreamWorks and LOVE the TV series attached to them. Beatuiful animation, fantastic characters, fun stories, they have it all. Those characters and dragons have woven themselves into my mind and the very fabric of my being. I dream about them and try to push my own dragon designs farther because of them. I gave a glowing review of HTTYD 2 when it came out, and I was beyond excited for this third installment. Unable to see it in theaters due to a cross-country move and lack of money, I anxiously waited to finally see it on DVD.
I finally had that chance recently. These GIFS sum up how I felt about it pretty well:
I’m pretty worked up about it, which is an understatement.
I will admit that my toddler kept slapping my face through the whole thing which had me irritated, but overall the impression I got from HTTYD 3 was of underwhelment and then at the end, betrayal.
The story was mediocre. The antagonist weak. A sad small number of new dragon designs were introduced. The group dynamic and humor from the support characters was lacking and they didn’t get to shine.
There were some good things about it. The dragon’s hidden world was gorgeous. So was the viking’s new island they ended up at. The animation was brilliant and Toothless stole the show as always, but even that wasn’t as well done as the previous two films.
And I would have been able to accept all that if it hadn’t been for the ending.
DreamWorks and the HTTYD franchise has spent two movies, a few specials, and five seasons of TV shows telling us that humans and dragons can get along and it’s important to fight and protect them.
And then at the end of The Hidden World, they go and take that idea and:
Against all previous character development and world building the plot takes over and kicks the dragons out of the world.
This makes NO SENSE with the characters in what has been up to this point a strongly character-driven story. Yes, I agree that it was an important growth moment for Hiccup to give Toothless his freedom and come into his own as a chief and person. That was good. However Toothless and all the dragons leaving is so wrong. Those dragons and vikings have grown accustomed to living together. Neither Hiccup or Toothless lead them by mind control, so them just obeying and splitting up with no protest makes no sense. But most importantly the bond between Toothless and Hiccup is so great that even the Light Fury had to acknowledge it and chose to save Hiccup because of it. Hiccup is Toothless’s closest friend. Toothless has proven time and time again that their relationship is most important to him. He wouldn’t leave to NEVER return with some female night fury he just met. He might need some distance to keep his new woman happy and spend some time away once in a while, but he’d still be there for Hiccup. They’re two pieces of a whole. It’s just wrong.
I read in an article (that I managed to find and lose in the process of writing this post) that Dean DeBlois, the film’s directer, was thinking of this as a “call to the wild” story for Toothless, and that his animal instincts trump his relationships and its his inevitable destiny. I don’t like that. It debases the dragons and puts them at the level of animals when the previous entirety of the franchise has shown us that the dragons are, for the most part, a step above animals in cognitive ability–especially Toothless.
Then there’s also the character break in Hiccup at giving up entirely on helping dragons anymore. Sure his utopia might not be reasonable, but sending all the dragons he currently was protecting away to the hidden world means he has zero tools to continue to help and protect the dragons still out there in the world and send them off to safety. There is zero indication that he attempts in any way to fight for dragons from then on out. He completely gives up on an important core aspect of himself. Sure he can give Toothless freedom, but dooming the rest of the dragons left out there to the terrible humans goes completely against Hiccup’s morals and personality.
Another flaw in this ending is Hiccup’s decision to no longer fight to be an example to the world on what the world should be. How is he supposed to make the world safer and better for dragons like he says he will by kicking the dragons out of it? That’s the opposite of helping.
My hubby saw the ending kind of like a City of Enoch promise thing to help kids want to be better so the dragons can come back. That’s not how I see it. To me it’s more sinister. By ending the story this way we’re told humans are unworthy and incapable of accepting and living alongside those who are different. We shouldn’t bother to fight for what we believe in, or protect those who need to be protected, or even try to get along. We just need to send the troublesome different things away to fend for themselves. This concept even gets punched into the story directly with Grimmol’s, the antagonist’s, practically religious hatred of dragons and his little speech to Hiccup about how Hiccup’s ideas of dragons and humans living together are toxic and dangerous to society. Let’s stop and think about the weight of this for a moment. According to this line of thinking, anything and anyone that doesn’t fit in with the “society,” in our case typically privileged western white male-led America, should be cast out and ignored. That means women, people of color, LGBTQ+, disabled, refugees, etc. People with different opinions should stop fighting for them because there’s no hope and we shouldn’t bother trying to get along.
I hate it.
In fact, I’m so upset I don’t really even want to own the movie. I wanted to love this movie so bad, but then it went and stabbed me in the back.
If the ending had been just a little different I would have been so ecstatically happy. All it would have taken was Hiccup offering Toothless and the other dragons freedom, Toothless choosing to stay, and the dragons being allowed to leave as they please for the hidden world and/or stay to help with the dragon protection effort. That’s it. Or something along those lines, at least. Something that stayed true to the main characters and their morals and relationships.
Just because you decided to limit HTTYD to a trilogy doesn’t mean you have to send the dragons away at the end to prevent any more movies from being made about it, DreamWorks!
I’ve never liked fan-fiction and have always preferred to adhere to official canon. I’ve always thought people should go make their own stories and leave published media alone, or at least not change things that are clearly canon. I could understand little side stories that didn’t change anything about the actual published work but were just extensions of it. But I’ve never been blatantly betrayed by a major story before. Now I want to go rewrite the whole movie and make it right. I lament not being there to help save this story that is so precious to me from the story writers who broke it so badly and took from it what it could have been.
I won’t be writing corrective fan-fiction, though. I will just do my best to not ever betray my own readers so badly by breaking characters to serve the plot.
Overall I give The hidden word three out of five stars. Plus three for all the great animation and good moments, minus two for the weak story and bungling the end so bad.