Ever since the release of the original How To Train Your Dragon back in 2010, the unlikely animated series has remained Dreamworks Animation’s flagship franchise. As a result, the series – based on the popular children’s books written by Cressida Cowell – has become one of the most rewarding trilogies that Dreamworks Animation has ever created. Although the first film is a modern animated classic, the second was a slight disappointment, even though it was a solid sequel in itself. So when it came to completing the trilogy with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the expectations were extremely high to deliver a worthy threequel. Luckily, The Hidden World lives up to expectations with a beautiful story and excellent animation, making for a supremely rewarding trilogy-ender.
As with the first two installments, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World writer/director by Dean DeBlois returns to the helm. Although it’s been five years since the sequel was released, the filmmaker hasn’t missed a step. In terms of both the writing and direction, DeBlois continues to tell an emotional and heartfelt story. At its core, The Hidden World is about growing up and letting go of what we hold most dear to us. Whereas the first two films primarily focused on Hiccup’s Journey into adulthood, this installment focuses on the journey of Toothless. It’s about embracing change, which is not only a fitting conclusion of the series but one that was also necessary for a real sense of closure.
Even though it’s a bit sentimental at times, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World manages to overcome an overstuffed plot with great character arcs. A large part of the reason why the film is so fulfilling is because of the excellent voice cast that returns to populate the movie. Jay Baruchel returns to emotionally anchor the story as Hiccup, whereas America Ferrera provides the heart. For the most part, the supporting voice talent is relegated to being the comedic relief, which is in line with its predecessors. Although most of the players form the first two installments are stable here, F. Murray Abraham’s Grimmel the Grisly gets the short end of the stick. Casting such an iconic actor was a good move for the role, but the character remains one-dimensional amongst the multiple subplots.
In addition to the solid storytelling and character work, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a visual feast. As with the rest of the franchise, the flying scenes are a highlight. This time, however, the visual vocabulary of the franchise has been dramatically expanded. The animation alone is breathtaking; let alone the wide variety of locales that shake up the visual palate of this universe. Unlike many threequels, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World successfully justifies its existence.
Ultimately, there’s a feeling that this installment of the franchise is necessary to complete the journey of these characters. It’s a film that is not only visually stunning and supremely well crafted, while also telling an emotionally affecting story. Despite some flaws with the writing, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a master class in how to craft a compelling ending to a trilogy.
Presented on Blu-ray with a 1080p encode, this disc features a slightly cropped version of the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. For a 1080p transfer, the detail is ridiculously sharp on this disc. Textures and fabrics are represented in vivid detail, while skin tones are appropriate throughout. Overall, contrast is excellent with striking shadows and highlights. While black levels are suitable for the most part, some night sequences are not as deep as one would like. Additionally, these scenes also feature mild artifacting in the darker parts of the frame, along with some potential aliasing that eagle-eyed viewers might notice.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this video transfer is the robust color palate that it preserves. It’s hard to overestimate how vibrant the visuals are in terms of straight color representation, which is reference-quality here. Although the 4K version probably adds a tad more depth to the visual presentation, this Blu-Ray transfer is extremely impressive overall. Despite the issues mentioned above, this is an excellent release from Universal Home Entertainment.
The sound mix for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is easily the highlight of this disc. Presented on home video via an impressive Dolby Atmos mix, this track delivers a sonically superior experience. As a whole, the audio mix is pretty much flawless. The biggest highlight of the mix is John Powell’s rousing score, which is arguably the best of all three movies. The score plays exceptionally well throughout, with excellent clarity and positioning in the mix.
Channel separation is excellent, dialogue levels are proper throughout, and no volume calibration is necessary. Overall, surround activity is stable and environmental ambiance, especially in the more subtle moments, is appreciated. If there’s one complaint, it’s that Subwoofer use is minimal, which taints the immersion during some of the action sequences. Despite this quibble, this mix is near flawless, adding a considerable amount of depth to the soundtrack.
The Special Features
The special features for the Blu-ray release of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World are plentiful. As per usual with most Universal releases, the supplemental material for the film is broken down into a series of short featurettes. There’s always room for a more in-depth making-of piece, but this disc covers most of the bases regardless.
DreamWorks Shorts (1080p): Two short films are included:
- Bird Karma(4:48)
Alternate Opening (4:15; 1080p): The original storyboarded version of the opening that was abandoned before animation. The alternate opening also includes an optional intro with DeBlois.
Deleted Scenes (12:48; 1080p): that appear in various stages of animation. It’s easy to see why most of these sequences got excised from the final edit. With that said, a few of the scenes add a bit of character and background flavor to Hiccup’s journey. Individual intros for each scene are also available from DeBlois.
- Automatic Tail
- Protector vs. Captor
- Spy Mission
- Mind Before the Sword
- Your Responsibility
How to Voice Your Viking (1:33; 1080p): Features a series of short b-roll clips of the various voice actors recording their lines.
Creating an Epic Dragon Tale (4:25; 1080p): Provides an overview of how the trilogy has evolved throughout the years. Touches on the expansion of the world, new characters, and crafting a worthy conclusion to the franchise.
How I Learned from Dragons (3:42; 1080p): The primary voice cast recalls their respective journeys working on the trilogy for nearly a decade.
Brave Wilderness Presents: Nature + Dragons = Awesome (1080p): Brave Wilderness‘ Coyote Peterson hosts two short featurettes that showcase the real-life inspiration for bringing the various dragons to life.
- Birds and Bats Are Awesome(3:34)
- Animal + Animal = Dragon(4:16)
The Dragon Sheep Chronicles (1080p): A duo of in-universe short films that feature some of the more tedious aspects of cohabitating with dragons.
- Friend vs. Food(1:21)
- The Secret Sheep Society(1:18)
A Deck of Dragons (3:29; 1080p): Details some of the attributes that make up the new dragon species introduced in the film.
Growing Up with Dragons (3:34; 1080p): Explores Hiccup’s character progression throughout the trilogy. We hear from most of the creative team on how they crafted a compelling arc for the lead character.
The Evolving Character Design of Dragons (3:18; 1080p): is a great featurette that showcases how the character design has evolved throughout the years.
Drawing Dragons (3:09; 1080p): Explores the design and origins of the dragons.
Epic Villain (1:44; 1080p): An all-too-short featurette that looks into the development of Grimmel. It also showcases some great BTS footage of F. Murray Abraham, who is an absolute gem in the recording studio.
Astrid’s Whole Dragon Trilogy in 60 Seconds (1:09; 1080p): As the title implies, a quick and meaningless recap of Astrid’s arc throughout the trilogy.
Welcome to New Berk (2:13; 1080p): A featurette whereby Hiccup narrates the amenities that New Berk offers its inhabitants.
Audio Commentary: Writer/Director Dean DeBlois, Producer Bradford Lewis, and Head of Character Animation Simon Otto delve into just about every aspect behind the making of the film. This track covers everything you’d expect from an excellent commentary, offering an expanded version of most the featurettes included above. It’s easily the best supplemental feature on this disc.
As a whole, this Blu-ray release of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is well-rounded. Although the film itself isn’t as unforgettable as the original, it’s a solid end to one of the most rewarding animated trilogies out there. The video is near-flawless, and the sound mix is pretty much perfect on this disc. While the supplemental material could be more in depth, there’s enough here to satisfy those who want to learn more. All things considered, this disc from Universal Home Entertainment comes Highly Recommended.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
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