So I realized after the movie tonight why in the past few months there have been so many of these early audience screenings published through sources like Amazon Prime, Fandango, and Cinemark. If you are in this industry (movie reviews) you may have noticed a lot of conversation late summer and last fall around backlash on the critic scores, RottenTomatoes, and audience scores. The studios are convinced that critics (RT was a target) are keeping people away from their movies, many critics and reviewers such as myself are saying “Make better movies”. This is how the studios are retaliating by giving audiences some of their tent-pole movies and let the audience voice take over vs the critical early. I for one welcome this change as if you’ve followed me for any length of time you know I encourage people to enjoy movies I don’t – its fine. I often disagree with critical and or audience reception of movies as well. This is what the experience *should* be. As a critic (yes I am moving myself from reviewer to critic), I can usually articulate why something does or doesn’t work – or more to the point shouldn’t. I can appreciate, and have many, so called guilty pleasure movies.
This franchise is not one of them. This franchise, which I was able to get to watch the finale of with some good and close friends tonight, is something that has been good and solid throughout.
How did the finale fair?
The movie is based on the book series by Cressida Cowell, adapted for the screen and directed by Dean DeBlois. Dean is responsible for the two prior movies and Lilo and Stitch in the same role (writer/director). This means for a franchise that the movie keeps the same narrative style, look, and feel as the others. That the voice direction, music, editing, and action all feel like the others – and while in some cases this can be bad (ie: Zack Snyder); the work DeBlois does has a certain almost universal accessibility to it and while I am hesitant to use the word purity to it that hold through the series that bear little critique. He reminds me in a way of George Miller, who gave us the entirety of the Mad Max series…and Happy Feet as his only entries. All of these have a specific style and vision to them and remain with a solid through line on them that works – even if continuity doesn’t always.
In this case, the continuity does match and holds through the franchise. The characters remain who they are even as they age and growing naturally, physically and emotionally, as they do. If anything in the plot of The Hidden World I expect others to critique the lack of meat to the villain, but he isn’t the point here. Capturing our main characters, Hiccup, Astrid, and Toothless growing is the real line of the movie and it does it amazingly; with an interesting line up between hiccup and the bad guy. For those worried about the new dragon, our Light Fury being subject to Hollywood ‘Girls have spechul powerz” – trust me you don’t have to worry. Moving onto the threat, while not meaty, does feel real and impactful. After the death of Stoic in the sequel you really can’t be sure who or what is on the table for this one and that helps a lot.
What also helps is the solid voice cast, Almost everyone returns to their roles, with Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, America Ferrera as Astrid, Craig Ferguson as Gobber, etc. Everyones favourite King of the North reprises his role as sideline character Eret that appeared in the sequel. The only, mildly, notable voice actor that doesn’t return is TJ Miller as Tuffnut, who is replaced by Justin Rupple. In January of last year the studio hadn’t commented on his (rightful) removal, and I can’t find any articles officially noting it; but good on Dreamworks. Continuing to focus on the positive here, Ferrera and Baruchel shine here with a lot of nuance to their voice acting which is only accentuated by the animation.
One thing everyone could say about these movies since the first one nine years ago is that they are gorgeous. The animation department at Dreamworks has always been top notch on these projects and they continue to push themselves from the lighting, the colour, and little details such as hair and microexpressions. None of this is ignored and makes the experience so much richer for it. The flight sequences absolutely are some of the best in the franchise and this movie doesn’t disappoint on that front either. There is a sense of scale that the animators provided when displaying the hidden world that lets it feel as large and small as it should be simultaneously and giving you an opportunity to take it all in. The opening fight sequence should be required watching for action movie directors in how to control your camera and let your audience enjoy and view the fight – even with it being dark. You can follow everything in every sequence and understand the geography of where every character is and how they are interacting with each other; all while the camera maintains it’s own fluidity of motion to match the dialogue. Some might say this is easy because it is animation, but there are so many movies now where you get this kind of camera work on an action sequence and you see it *can* be done – people are just choosing not to.
Last special nod to John Powells score. Test Drive from the original is one of my favourite scored musics and I use it regularly for one of my 7th Sea characters, and here he outdoes himself with the callbacks to the prior two scores but some new ones that are just as powerful.
This movie is the goods. It is good, it is pure, it is how you do the end of a trilogy right AND stick the landing. I honestly have little critique for it and just thoroughly enjoyed my time. The audience I was with, mixed with children as young as 4 to people in their 70’s did too. There was laughter, there were tears, there was applause all at the moments there should be those beats and when you get that from an entire theatre along side you the experience is so much better for it.
What you have is a great finale to a truly family friendly movie franchise and a good reminder this is entirely possible to make as a movie even as we wind down this decade.
Should I see it?
Yes. Go when it opens in a few weeks. Go and see and enjoy. Bring tissues.
Would you watch it again?
Friday February 22, 2019. You will find me at the theatre. Besides nothing else coming out that week, this one is worth seeing again. I honestly want to see it in 3-D if that release happens as the flight moments would be spectacular.
No doubt in my mind what so ever that I will have a 4K version of this the day I can get it in my icy little hands.
Are you perhaps overselling this movie?
No. I really am not. I am a fan of the franchise, but guys it’s that good. It may not be the greatest thing, but it is that good.
The year has started rough, but we have our first real entry and I am glad for it. I think you will be too.