The key to creating worthwhile sequels is understanding your characters and giving them chances to grow and learn; don’t just send them through the same sorts of adventures with new characters.
“Toy Story” did this well with their sequels. Woody, Buzz and the gang were given three movies to become different characters. Sure, those movies are entertaining, but the real heart of them lies within the way Pixar treats their characters. Conversely, look at the “Ice Age” movies. Each sequel simply adds more characters to the mix while essentially telling the same story with some zany action. There’s no real depth to those movies, which is why whenever a new “Ice Age” movie is announced, most of us find ourselves saying, “Really? Another one?”
The “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise seems to have attended the “Toy Story” school of thought when it comes to producing sequels.
Evident here, now that the franchise is coming to an end (it’s been reported, but you never really know), is that the creators of this series really understands and loves their characters, both human and dragon.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise with Dean DeBlois in the director’s chair. DeBlois first worked on “Lilo and Stich” for Disney before moving over to Dreamworks with the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise. Toothless derives much of his personality and quirks from Stitch. Deblois and crew are able to create a simple yet effective anthropomorphic dragon that has such remarkable expression in its face that it’s easy to forget it’s animation.
In this third film, “The Hidden World,” we’re again introduced to Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his band of merry vikings who have befriended all dragons. Hiccup has now assumed the mantle of chief. He’s adamant that dragons and humans can live together in harmony.
The tiny village of Berk is packed full of dragons. So much so that I found myself wondering where they keep all the dragon droppings. The streets would be full of the stuff, right? Sanitary questions aside, the dragon-inspired engineering of Berk is colorful and imaginative. It reminded me of the dreamlike Land of the Dead buildings from “Coco.”
As is usually the case, Hiccup and his friends face an outside threat who threatens to ruin their way of life.
This time, the dragon hunter Gimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham) is out for blood. Reminiscent of people who travel all the way to Africa to shoot endangered species for “sport,” Gimmel’s main drive in life is to kill all the night furys. When he finds out that Hiccup has Toothless he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his warped dream of wiping out an entire species.
What makes this final installment so satisfying is how Hiccup can grow beyond what we already know him to be. Toothless also finds a deeper meaning to living rather than being a loveable sidekick. Both experience radical changes and are faced with choices that will alter their trajectories forever.
Some animated franchises are comfortable sticking with the status quo. However, the ones that take risks and treat their characters with respect are the ones that are worth more than a few simple laughs. “The Hidden World” definitely doesn’t stick to the status quo.