It is always hard, as an adult viewer, to be fully objective when viewing a children’s film because what can seem clichéd, obvious and overdone to you, can often be the very same moments in the film that has its young audience enthralled and, in the particular case of How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, audibly excited as well.
The audience at the media screening for the film had, at least, a 3:1 ratio of children to adults, and those young 75% were clearly riveted to the screen throughout its full running time – they laughed, gasped, cried and, ultimately, as the credits rolled, applauded as one.
On that measure, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is almost certain to be a winner with its pre-high school holiday audience, and any reservations this old curmudgeon has about the film should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Written and directed by Dean DeBlois, The Hidden World‘s plotline completes the coming of age story of the young Viking chief, Hiccup, and his quest to have humans and dragons continue to live in harmony, through ultimately leading them to the mythical ‘Hidden World’ where they can all live free from persecution and the threat of extinction caused by hunters. Whilst striving to achieve this pure idea, Hiccup must confront his adult responsibilities, and assess his relationship with his own dragon – Toothless, the Night Fury – as he works through all of the pain that this process inevitably brings him before he can achieve contentment.
For those of us who can see through the unsubtle emotional manipulation that is at play here, there are memorable elements that still make the viewing experience worthwhile. In particular, the Hidden World, when revealed, is an Avatar-like visual wonder worth the price of admission in itself.
There are mixed messages being delivered in this film though, of which parents should be aware.
The film, whilst supposedly pushing a pacifistic agenda, starts with a fairly violent fight sequence – vindicated in the name of liberation, of course – during which the sensitive, peace seeking, Hiccup, the young chief of the land of Berk, leads his dragon flying friends into a brutal dispatching of his Viking dragon kidnapping foes. It is not the last confrontation either, as Grimmel, the evil dragon hunter, and his cronies, relentlessly seek to wipe out dragons once and for all.
So, be prepared, some of these scenes may be distressing for younger audience members.
Obviously, there is also a pro-conservation philosophy underpinning the plot here, but that does not stop the entire population of Berk, after being forced out of their ancestral home, quickly colonizing the unspoiled paradise they discover for their new home and ‘urbanizing’ this new environment in record time.
And then, ultimately, the reward Hiccup achieves after enduring great personal sacrifice, conforms to the conservative adherence to long held social mores as he settles into the circumstances of his new relationship and subsequent family life.
Technically, the animation style employed in this film is appealing – the colour palette is invariably bright, attractive and visually arresting. Structurally, the sequencing of the film’s major plot developments, even though these were a little predictable at times, kept the pace appealingly brisk.
Stylistic consistency with the first two earlier instalments in the franchise is maintained, and many of the voice talents employed in those two films have returned here – Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, and Kristen Wiig being among these. The newest addition, F. Murray Abraham, gives voice and gravitas to the nasty scheming, Grimmel, and proves to be a great casting choice.
Overall, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is an entertaining and diverting film – but it may require just a little bit of ‘parental guidance’ after the viewing to ensure the film’s core messages are further explained and balanced.
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World opens in cinemas around Adelaide on January 3, 2019.