Updated: Aug 14, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
“HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2019; PG for adventure action and some mild, rude humor; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: A plethora of goodies, including commentary by Director/Writer/Producer Dean DeBlois DeBlois, Producer Bradford Lewis and Head of Character Animation Simon Otto
TRUE LOVE wins in the third – and likely final – installment of DreamWorks’ franchise, “How to Train Your Dragon.”
Based on the bestselling book series by Cressida Cowell, Director/Writer/Producer Dean DeBlois returns with the animators and voice actors Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kit Harrington in the roles they originated. Justin Rupple steps in for T.J. Miller’s Tuffnut, doing a first class job in an expanded role. Still, it’s a shame Miller couldn’t finish the trilogy. DeBlois told Insider the decision came from on high. Rupple’s performance was accomplished through Automated Dialog Replacement (ADR) because Miller’s characterization had already been animated. F. Murray Abraham provides the voice for dragon hunter/killer sophisticate Grimmel, the bad guy with a heart of coal. Berkians must take him on to save their beloved dragons.
The story seems familiar, but never fear, there’s a new element to deal with. Love. The relationship between new chief Hiccup (Baruchel) and chieftess-to-be Astrid (Ferrera) is stuttering ahead, gaining traction as Toothless, now the Alpha Dragon, meets the Light Fury, the love of his life. She’s a wild and untamed beauty to quote myriad romance novel covers. Her only experience with humans has been bad, so she’s not willing to accept Hiccup as a friend. “It’s love at first sight,” DeBlois says in “Creating An Epic Dragon Tale,” one of several good bonus features on the presentation from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
It’s a change that upends Hiccup’s world. Berkians have encountered and triumphed over villains before. But to follow his heart, Toothless must leave them behind to rule over and protect the dragons’ Hidden World. That means Hiccup, his friends and the villagers of Berk must change as well.
The biggest crisis, however, comes from the fans, me included. A world without Hiccup and Toothless together? Inconceivable – and heartbreaking. The same could be said for DeBlois, his fellow filmmakers, animators, and the cast. It’s been a decade since the series began, and impossible to say good-bye. Can we get a reprieve?
“It’s fantastic to have adventure, but I’m more interested in how we touch people, how emotional the experience is … What we’ve come to learn in crafting the ‘Dragon’ trilogy is that every installment needs to expand the world. It needs to expand the wonder. Wonder’s very important to me because it speaks to that adventurous kid in all of us.” — Director/Writer/Producer Dean DeBlois
Again, animated films are absolutely worth the 4K setup. The 1080p transfer is acceptable at best when compared to the 2160p with HDR (2.35:1 aspect ratio). The picture is so solid, the dragon world becomes three-dimensional without the pesky glasses. Light effects and contrast become breathtaking.
Like Cowell’s books, the films are filled with a huge variety of dragons. Each creature design, as well as the dragon world, must make an impact and they do. Characters are equally unique and memorable.
Colors are bold and bright throughout; even night scenes sparkle with moonlit clouds and stars. Dragons swarm and fly like massive, fantastically shaped butterflies across the screen. Berk is a home of towering buildings and roosts in wild shapes and vivid colors. Mountain ranges, oceans, lakes and waterfalls, viking apparel, weapons and ships are incredibly detailed and we can see it all. Designer/engineer Hiccup has created new armor and flying suits made from flame resistant dragon scales. (Dragons shed a lot, apparently much like cats and dogs.) They gleam with dark mother-of-pearl highlights.
The Light Fury design is comparable to Toothless, with some notable changes. She’s sleeker; her scales sparkle with highlights of peach, pale blue and gray in a constant play of muscle when she moves. The family they create combine the parents’ dark and light qualities in the dragon babies, the Nightlights. These little critters deserve their own film.
Both the Ultra 4K and Blu-ray discs offer excellent eight channel Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtracks. Sound is well balanced throughout, establishing a terrific ceiling to floor experience in the Atmos. It’s a polished mix of special and ambient effects, score by John Powell, and clear dialogue. “Part of what makes these movies special is how these movies sound ... It’s this really special kaleidoscope of voices that you wouldn’t necessarily always think would be together,” says Jay Baruchel (Hiccup).
“I love that everyone has their own approach to their characters, but they all do so with ownership and authenticity.” — Dean DeBlois
“Hidden World’s” video and audio are reference quality achievements.
All extras are available on both formats. We get our money’s worth beginning with the feature commentary from DeBlois, Producer Bradford Lewis and Head of Character Animation Simon Otto. Then there are two unrelated original DreamWorks’ shorts, “Bilby” and “Bird Karma.” There’s an alternate opening, and five deleted scenes, all in animated sketch format that can be played with or without introductions by DeBlois. Next up, “Creating an Epic Dragon Tale,” “How I Learned from Dragons,” and “Astrid’s Whole Dragon Trilogy in 60 Seconds,” withAmerica Ferrera, recount the three films. “How to Voice Your Viking” and “How I Learned from Dragons” provide interviews with the actors; “The Dragon Sheep Chronicles” shows how they've learned to protect themselves from the carnivores. “Epic Villain” showcases F. Murray Abraham’s performance as Grimmel. “Welcome to New Berk” highlights a “Hidden World” sequence – so different from Hiccup's initial introduction: "This is Berk. It's twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It's located solidly on the Meridian of Misery.”
Coyote Peterson of YouTube’s “Brave Wilderness” hosts the two-part “Brave Wilderness Presents: Nature + Dragons = Awesome.” “Drawing Dragons” features Production Designer Pierre-Oliver Vincent. “What we tried to do was combine known animals and their specific attributes with something that would be unrelated,” says DeBlois. Toothless is a combination of a black panther and a salamander. (Watch these films with a cat and you’re in dragon world.)
“Every dragon has some sort of inspiration outside of just the reptilian world,” says “POV” Vincent. “Hobgobblers are [based on] the French bulldogs of our director Dean.”
They’re a mix of bulldog and tree frog, small enough to carry in your arms, but fierce. They drool, will eat anything, and, in a pack, can tear through buildings and warships. DeBlois’ dog, Gordon, provides the base for its voice.
“I’m very proud that people [filmmakers and fans] feel so invested, ultimately so rewarded by the work. It’s certainly a lifetime goal fulfilled,” DeBlois concludes.
The three films go back to Cressida Cowel’s first book. “The opening line is Hiccup as an old man reflecting back … ‘There were dragons when I was a boy.’”
Lucky us. We can watch them forever.
— Kay Reynolds