Another year of cinema has passed, which means it’s time for our second annual Golden Cages awards, the only end-of-the-year awards program featuring everyone’s favorite actor as a screaming statuette! For the two weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, we at Flixist will be announcing our winners across seventeen different categories for what we consider the best achievements in film in 2019. Why do we wait so long into the year to do this? Because we can! So sit back, relax, and enjoy the awards.
Someway, somehow, the vote for our 2019 Golden Cages Best Animated Feature resulted in a tie between How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World and Toy Story 4. This despite the fact that we have an odd number of writers. Voter fraud you say? Sounds familiar. But the truth of the matter is this, I voted for How to Train Your Dragon, so apologies to you fans of Woody, Buzz, Peep, sheep, dino-dude, and other nostalgia-based toys, but this discussion is going to focus on Hiccup & friends. While the Toy Story quadrilogy is equally beloved, if not more so, and deserving of heaps of praise in its own right, it’s not my cup of tea.
The Hidden World is the concluding chapter of the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, a trilogy, in part inspired by the scale and emotional resonance of the original Star Wars. At their core, these are tales of growing up and finding ones way in life, of making your own choices, and of dealing with the obstacles that life throws at all of us. Oh, and they do this by using dragons as a vehicle to help the story progress. Closing chapters can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. They can disappoint, fall short, or plain just get it wrong. The Hidden World is one of the best concluding chapters to all trilogies, animated or otherwise. It gets it (nearly) all right, hitting all the emotional lows and highs you can hope for or endure–who can watch Hiccup part with Toothless the night fury, realizing he must let him go so that Toothless can live, and not shed a tear?
Often, these types of moral or life lessons can come off as heavy-handed, but here it’s done with deft ease, pulling at the heartstrings enough to make you gasp, but offering release just when they might snap. It may lack the full resonance of Hiccup’s father sacrificing himself to save his son in the second film, but the layers of development that are dropped one atop another more than make up for it.
The cyclical nature of these films, following a pair of protagonists, human and dragon, who both find a kindred, misunderstood spirit; both supporting one another through their physical injuries and becoming one cohesive unit in the process; both finding love; both having to mature enough to lead their respective peoples to new homes and new ways of life is only surpassed by the growth demonstrated in the films themselves. The trilogy spanned near a decade, and in terms of animation technology, this is a long time. The Hidden World is a visual delight, hallmarked by the journey into the titular dragon homeland buried at the center of a physics defying waterfall at ‘world’s end.’ The details and imagination that bring this ‘lifelike’ animation to life are awe-inspiring to the degree that one can sit back, turn off the cynic’s mind, and just enjoy.
Do we mention the amazingly cast voice ensemble or John Powell’s perfect rendition of a dragon-Viking score? Of course. While both are as integral to the film and trilogy’s success as anything else, they’re also icing on this delicious cake that was 2019’s best animated co-feature.