How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a sweet, engaging instalment that charmingly delivers the message of self-belief, love and letting go; ruminations on death linger over the new Coen brothers film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a Western anthology featuring tales of violence and mortality in the Old West.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World***
*ing (voices): Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Justin Rupple, Kristen Wiig, and F. Murray Abraham
Directed by Dean DeBlois
Tagline: Fly on your own. Find your way home.
Hiccup and Toothless return for another big screen adventure in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third (and supposedly final) instalment in DreamWorks’ beloved animated series.
The movie arrives nearly a decade after the film that started the franchise, and its characters have come a long way since we first met them in 2010. Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is now the leader of his tribe, and has helped build the world’s first dragon-Viking utopia by rescuing dragons with his fellow dragon riders and bringing them back to Berk.
But when an infamous dragon hunter, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), sets out to capture the protagonist’s beloved alpha Night Fury, Toothless, Hiccup decides to search for the "hidden world" - the ancestral home of all dragons, tucked away somewhere beyond the edge of the world - that his late father (Gerard Butler) told him about, in the hopes of moving both the dragons and the Vikings to safety.
The villain - always menacing but never layered enough to be interesting - sends a female Light Fury dragon to lure Toothless, and things slow down towards the middle as a love-struck Toothless chases his potential mate in what is probably not the most riveting arc of the film. We are led to a predictable climax and an ending that is warm but doesn’t quite deliver the emotional punch that it aims for.
Graced with some striking visual sequences, The Hidden World is a heart-warming chapter that is clearly targeted towards the younger audience, particularly those already invested in the tale of its young hero. The more jaded viewer will notice the film’s pacing issues and will see its inevitable conclusion coming from a distance.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a sweet, engaging instalment that rather charmingly delivers the message of self-belief, love, and letting go, but the movie doesn’t quite possess the excitement or inventiveness that could have made it exceptional. Still, the filmmakers do manage to create an amicable tale and the voice cast continues to get the job done. The film ultimately leaves us with a tender finale that fans of the franchise are very likely to enjoy.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs***1/2
*ing: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Kazan, Tyne Daly, Harry Melling, and Tom Waits
Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Tagline: Stories live forever. People don’t.
Six separate vignettes make up the over two hours long project, putting together song, dark wit, bleak drama, and an unforgiving backdrop for some offbeat storytelling.
A singing gunslinger (Tim Blake Nelson) merrily shoots his way through the musical ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’. A bank robber (James Franco) meets his comeuppance in ‘Near Algodones’. An aging impresario (Liam Neeson) and his limbless artist (Harry Melling) try to make a living as they travel from town to town in ‘Meal Ticket’. An elderly prospector (Tom Waits) looks for a pocket of gold on a hillside in ‘All Gold Canyon’. A young woman (Zoe Kazan) travels in a wagon train across the prairie in ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled’. And five very different people ride in a stagecoach in ‘The Mortal Remains’.
Happy endings are in scant supply and the destination is often bleak, but each journey is still worth taking in its own way. Some shorts may be more enjoyable than others, but each leaves its mark. The most impactful, perhaps, is ‘Meal Ticket’, which stands out with its brutal twist and the terrific acting of Liam Neeson and especially Harry Melling whose haunting performance stays with you long after the segment is over. Equally memorable is Tom Waits as a gold prospector; an old man conversing with a hillside has never been more fascinating. And Tim Blake Nelson is so amusing in the titular chapter that it would be hard to complain if the San Saba Songbird were to sing and shoot his way through a full-length movie.
The inspired moments in Buster Scruggs and the thought provoking arcs in the proceedings are testament to the Coen brothers’ filmmaking talent. But there are also parts of the film that feel overlong. Plus these six stories of life and death in the Old West combined start to feel a bit too morbid. And while the Coens give you a thematic connection between the tales in the final instalment, they retain the loose episodic structure till the end; the vignettes don’t ever converge and the viewers don’t get the satisfaction of watching the individual strings cleverly tying together for a comprehensive finale.
Still, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs makes for an intriguing viewing experience, thanks to the Coens’ astute storytelling as well as the film’s dark wit, stunning visuals, and unusual structure, and the remarkable performances by the cast.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection