How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World 4K Ultra HD Review

        As rare as a non-Disney/Pixar animated success story is in Hollywood, it is not surprising that those which are successful inevitably parlay it into additional films. How to Train Your Dragon first captured the attention of audiences in 2010 (released by Paramount Pictures), followed by a sequel in 2014 (released by 20th Century Fox), with the final installation being this year’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (released by Universal Pictures). With a fitting close to the story of Hiccup and Toothless (the most unlikely of hero names) found in the last chapter of the trilogy, it looks as though Dreamworks is in the market for a new animation franchise to compete with.

        Despite the inevitability of diminishing returns in sequels, the How to Train Your Dragon series has had a natural progression in the liberation of the dragons of the (imagined) world. The first film was simply about the adolescent Viking, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), as an aspiring dragon hunter whose relationship with a wild dragon leads him to change opinions about the powerful beasts, which progressed within his community in the sequel, so that Hiccup’s entire clan is riding their own personal dragons and living in harmony with them by the start of this final film. Unfortunately, they have not convinced the rest of the world to live in peace with the creatures, and a new dragon hunter is determined to destroy all of the Night Fury left in the world.

        Hiccup leads his Viking clan and their dragon family away from the danger, in search of an elusive waterfall at the end of the world which promises an entrance to a hidden world that dragons are thought to come from. A bit too conveniently, a female Night Fury (quickly dubbed a Light Fury due to the contrasting white color instead of black) suddenly appears, having come from the very hidden world that they are seeking. The interest of the film then becomes two-fold; dealing with Toothless’ awkwardness courting with his feral counterpart (particularly after years being domesticated and taking on human qualities), and the impending attack from a ruthless dragon hunter.

        If the two storylines of The Hidden World are often disjointed for much of the film, they are expediently combined in the finale as a way for dual resolution. Like many of the wild animal-friendship films of the past (Born Free being the easiest to recall), this resolution feels somewhat inevitable from the start of the film, but the film is also given a crowd-pleasing epilogue that seems to reference the equally effective wild animal-reunion video that has been popularly shared through social media sites. It is a sentimental and sweet ending to the trilogy, though that does not take away from the excitement the film offers leading up to this point.

        Although there are some fantastic moments of magical animation (mostly seen in the title ‘hidden world’), the film’s style is primarily utilized to immerse the audience in the action. As with most family-oriented animation films, there is a dominant reliance on humor throughout, but this does not necessarily always dilute the suspense of the action sequences. Even knowing the unlikelihood of a violent resolution in a PG-rated animated film, I found myself getting swept up in the tense moments of the narrative due to the effectiveness of the filmmaking. This may be a bit much for the younger audience members, but violence is wisely kept implied to avoid any real carnage.

        Although some of the basic animated sequences are not as detailed as other modern animation films, this is easily forgiven by the use of colors and movement in the film. This is particularly true of the 4K Ultra HD release, which provides deeper and more vibrant colors to the visual experience. I have never much liked the design of these films in terms of the animation, but did appreciate the colors a great deal more in this format. While the obvious highlights to the 4K release are these visual enhancements, the sound is also more immersive and the package comes with a Blu-ray and digital copy also included.

        The special features on the discs include two short films; Bilby and Bird Karma. In terms of additional footage, there are also a handful of deleted scenes and an alternate opening to the film (in rough animated form). Not necessary added (but instead edited) footage, there is a feature which plays the entire dragon trilogy in 30 seconds. A highlight for film fans will be a feature commentary with writer/director Dean DeBlois, producer Bradford Lewis, and head of character animation Simon Otto. There are also a number of brief featurettes, many of which focus on the animation and character designs, including a feature that shows how to draw the designs yourself. There is a nice balance between superficial fan material (most likely directed at younger audience members) and informational production materials.

Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance:  6/10
Special Features: 8/10

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