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YIN/YANG REVIEWS: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World / Bigger: The Joe Weider Story

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

By Derek May:

YIN: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

I shouldn’t be amazed at how all-around amazing animated films can be, but I still find myself continuously gobsmacked. These films take so long to develop, they have plenty of time to get it right. Plus, with the added expense and effort it takes to animate even a few seconds of film, you want to be 100% sure that what you’re spending that time and money on is the absolute best it can possibly be. That’s why you rarely see many cut scenes on your home bluray for animated fare.

Thus, making one incredible, nuanced, beautifully crafted animated feature is a magnificent achievement. But making three in a row—that’s just a Herculean feat! But damned if Dreamworks et al didn’t pull of exactly that with the third and seemingly final entry in the How to Train Your Dragon series: The Hidden World.

For a series based on the simple premise of a boy (Hiccup) and his dragon (Toothless), the creators have managed to mine a surprising amount of substance and growth with each entry. From the first film’s tackling of the quite mature theme of prejudice and living in peace through understanding, each sequel has upped the ante in terms of thematic and emotional exploration. With the previous film, we braved the gauntlet of love, loss, forgiveness, and rising to the call of leadership, especially as Hiccup became the Chief of Berk and Toothless the alpha dragon. This time, we delve even further, mining the meanings behind these roles, as well as learning the hardest lesson of all: letting go of those we care about most.

I wish I could just splay out spoilers, dissecting each lovely detail for the trove of intricacies buried within. But I’ll let you all discover these gems for yourself. Suffice to say that Hidden World extrapolates from the previous stories by asking the legitimate question: what happens when you’ve saved so many dragons that it becomes untenable—even with the best of intentions—for humans and dragons to co-exist? On top of all that, another villainous dragon-hunter is hot on their trail, eager to rid the world of the “scourge” of dragons. While that last part might sound a bit familiar, I once again refer to you my point about how cleverly discerning these storytellers can be—give them the benefit of the doubt here.

If there’s an overriding theme to The Hidden World it might be “finding new life.” Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has developed into a fine and respected Chief, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his doubters. And as a stream of new challenges arise, he finds himself in the unenviable position of having to choose between his people and his dragon friends. On top of that, he must begin to forge a life for himself with his beloved partner, the kindhearted warrior Astrid (America Ferrera). So where does that leave Hiccup and his best bud, Toothless?

Can two creatures who are quite literally dependent on each other be able to forge separate paths? That is the rub. But as Toothless becomes enamored with a female Light Fury, and begins to explore love on his own, he too wrestles with this very human dilemma.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on here!

Luckily, neither Hiccup nor Toothless must face these challenges alone. Hiccup’s mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett) and father Stoik (Gerard Butler) return with sage advice in their own unique ways. And of course, there’s always surrogate father Gobber (Craig Ferguson) ready to tell it like it is. Even the goofball sidekicks of Eret (Kit Harrington), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), and—most surprising of all—Tuffnut (Justin Rupple, taking over from the currently ostracized T.J. Miller) are there to express their support, such as it is, for Hiccup, and the community at large. And all will be needed to defeat Grimmel (the legendary F. Murray Abraham), an antagonist seemingly always a step ahead of Hiccup and company. Grimmel’s threat isn’t just physical, or cerebral, but reflective, as he may represent the flip side to Hiccup’s point of view, and quite possibly, be what Hiccup might have become if not for the love and support he’s benefitted from since the beginning.

Each actor truly brings their character to life in impressively rich ways, so much so that by this third movie you feel like you’re reuniting with old friends, yet still learning something new about each. While attention can vary, each character is absolutely given due, sometimes in a highlighted scene, sometimes in simple gags that further their development. What is clear is that the performers are all really enjoying their time, letting go and having fun with the roles. That joy shines through the digital faces and really engenders a sense of caring in the audience.

It seems almost a given to mention how good the animation is, but it’s important to remember that it’s been nearly a decade since the first film’s release, and each entry only raises the bar in terms of realistic effects. There are times here when you truly forget you’re watching animation, as the water, grass, fire, sets, and textures are so photo real they lull you into complete acceptance of this universe as our own. Even the peach fuzz smattering Hiccup’s cheeks throughout the film is such a light but powerful touch, symbolizing his continued growth.

But again, the bar for any movie is really how it makes you feel. I won’t lie, I was tearing up by the end of The Hidden World. Some were tears for the emotional roller coaster I just went through, some as a goodbye to friends moving on. It’s rare that any movie can make you feel that, let alone one without a single flesh-and-blood human being before you. But does it matter? When characters are properly developed, who cares if they’re people or pixels? It’s the time and effort spent making every word, gesture, look, and interaction on screen as meaningful, honest, and impactful as possible. It’s storytelling that invests the audience because of the time invested to really say something that matters to people. And here now, with the third film about a boy and his dragon, they’ve said everything they needed to.

Fly free, my friends.


YANG: Bigger: The Joe Weider Story

When you think bodybuilding, the first name that likely pops into your head is Arnold Schwarzenegger, and rightfully so. But really, if we’re talking about the sport—its development, its history, and its rise to global phenomenon—the name that should come to mind is Joe Weider. There’s no question Joe, along with his brother Ben and his wife Betty, were pioneers in an industry that that was mostly derided, if mot ignored, before them. So it’s natural that such a story would eventually be put to film . . . it’s just a shame it wasn’t given proper justice.