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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
  • Composed by John Powell
  • Backlot / 76m

Completing the trilogy, The Hidden World sees Hiccup searching for the eponymous dragon utopia so the surplus of dragons that have accumulated have somewhere to live. Critical response has been very favourable (these are unusually classy films for Dreamworks Animation) and it would seem the long wait since the second film has been more than worth it for the series’ fans.

John Powell’s wonderful music for these films has been a highlight of his career – of course he returns for the third one and of course he blends familiar themes from the previous scores with a number of excellent new ones. Things get off to a spectacular start in “Raiders Return to Busy, Busy Berk” which is a sensational swashbuckler of a cue, opening with lots of typically detailed action music (including a new action theme, somewhat reminiscent of one of the themes from John Williams’s The BFG) before the two main themes from the first film make grand entrances as the piece nears its conclusion.

John Powell

“Dinner Talk / Grimmel’s Introduction” has a soft take on the main theme before we get some more action – much more restrained this time but there is a nice little hint of the second score’s flying with mother theme in the choppy strings; we finally get to hear one of this score’s primary new themes, the Hidden World theme, in “Legend Has It / Cliffside Playtime” – after nostalgic takes on some familiar themes, we get a fairly subtle rendition of it and it’s a little subdued (which is not how we find it very often as we progress through the score).

As the album progresses, we hear a few cues that are all very pleasant and offer some lovely warm melodies, but there’s a bit of a feeling that things aren’t really sparking fully into life yet – don’t worry though because soon enough it’s not so much a spark as a blazing breath of fire that sets things off in the soaring “Exodus!” and the score barely pauses for breath (fiery or otherwise) in its remaining hour. In that cue we get some brilliantly rousing music including a sweeping arrangement of a new love theme, which has a golden age quality to it not unlike the love theme in Solo a few months earlier. Then the gorgeous “Third Date” opens with some playful, new age material before it too presents the new love theme, this time in a more conventional romantic setting. It’s a long piece and covers a lot of ground, including the score’s first major outing for the bagpipe ensemble the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Before long, “Furies in Love” is all romantic and lovely too – now back to fully orchestral in the process (it’s another standout).

The Icelandic singer/songwriter Jónsi has written songs for all three of these films – I don’t like the one in The Hidden World any more than the previous two, but he does have another role here, and that is providing vocals for Powell’s cue “The Hidden World”, which is gorgeous – it stands out a little from the tracks around it but I think it’s a really impressive piece, that new age sound again but here taken to another level – the music dances around then soars majestically.

“Armada Battle” is eight and a half minutes of brilliance from Powell, turning snatches of a huge number of themes from across all three films into a stonking piece of action music – his themes are always really fluid and malleable and that’s what enables him to write cues like this one so often, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink and turning it into something that is certainly frenzied but never unfocused, which is quite rare.

The action continues into the wonderful “As Long as He’s Safe” – then when the familiar theme kicks in a minute or so into the cue, it’s a real goosebumps moment. “Once There Were Dragons” is the finale and it’s full of emotional power – summing up everything these scores are about, in fact – playful, tuneful, stirring – it’s just the perfect end to the trilogy of scores. On the CD, that’s that (well, except the Jónsi song) – but on digital releases, we then have a bonus track which is a suite of the score’s new themes – and a perfectly-arranged one, at that, which should be taking pride of place on the CD (I can’t believe it’s not even on it). (Speaking of the album – if you’re a font enthusiast, there’s bound to be something for you to enjoy on the front cover, which features more different fonts in a confined space than can be healthy.)

With the first score having come in the first year of the 2010s and the final one in the last, this trilogy of music frames a decade of film music in which it has played a very notable part. While perhaps this third instalment doesn’t quite have a track to rival “Test Drive” or “Flying with Mother” (“Armada Battle” and “Once There Were Dragons” do come close) it is still for the most part of the highest quality and shows off again what a fine composer John Powell is. The films obviously held special meaning for him and his family and his emotion shines through all through it. Brilliant!

Rating: **** 1/2

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  1. Mike (Reply) on Monday 18 February, 2019 at 08:16

    Pretty accurate. Indeed, also part 3 is of the highest standard.

  2. Matt Toth (Reply) on Tuesday 19 February, 2019 at 03:11

    Totally agree with this review. Powell’s work on this series is outstanding. I haven’t been able to stop listening to this.

  3. Dirk (Reply) on Tuesday 19 February, 2019 at 09:10

    While most listeners will go for the sheer optimism en action music that were so overwhelming on the first two albums, Powell does not just repeat himself. This makes this album so clever and special. There are the familiar themes and stuff, but here he manages to dig deeper and deliver a score that needs multiple listens to get the beauty of it.

  4. David (Reply) on Tuesday 19 February, 2019 at 21:05

    I am so glad that after beginning the trilogy, Mr Powell was able to compose all three scores. I think the first two are quite possibly Dreamworks finest animations. Mr. Powell’s scores for both films only helped to elevate them even higher. With Hidden World, he has secured a place for both the trilogy and himself in the Animation Hall of Fame.

  5. Ben (Reply) on Tuesday 19 February, 2019 at 23:12

    Great review, and echoes my feelings almost exactly. It’s a terrific score with an incredible sense of inspiration and emotion, but unlike the first two scores, it lakes that “one cue” you can point to and say THIS is why it’s a masterpiece. I feel like the first two scores also benefited from a serendipitous, almost concert-like pacing which translated to a sublime album experience, which this one doesn’t achieve so much.

    But I still love the music, it’s probably my new favorite movie trilogy score of all time, and I can’t wait to see the film. With track titles like “As Long As He’s Safe” and “Once There Were Dragons,” I’m sure I’ll be crying bucketloads in the theater.

  6. Luc Van der Eeken (Reply) on Friday 22 February, 2019 at 18:29

    Just beautiful music. The track ‘Armada Battle’ structurally reminds me of ‘The Ultimate War ‘ from HOOK and I mean that as a compliment, the track just gets more and more intense but it’s still great music. He’s still getting better and better and for me personally he’s the heir to Williams’throne.

  7. Napier Lopez (Reply) on Friday 8 March, 2019 at 21:02

    I can’t stop listening to “Once There Were Dragons.” It’s such a perfect capper to the series. Recapping the old themes we love and weaving them in with new ones.

    I love how the scores for the three movies feel at once interconnected and highly distinct. Each film has its own orchestral color. HTTYD1 has a strong and distinct presentation of original themes, while HTTYD2, ups the scale and sense of grandeur tremendously. HTTYD3 though… it seems to combine the intimacy of the first and the scale of the second, while bringing a distinct color of its own. It has a certain kineticism… the percussion at the beginning of “Raiders return,” or the flowing section beginning at 4:00. The sudden bombast of “With love comes a great waterfall,” the beautiful choral opening to Once There Were dragons, the playfulness of “Third Date.” Just a truly spectacular score.

    I can’t think of any other franchise that has struck a balance of familiar and original so well. Star Wars, of course, comes to mind, but more between trilogies than over consecutive films. The closest thing might be harry potter, In particular the shift from Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets to Prisoner of Azkaban. But then Williams was out of the picture and none of the other scores could really compete.

    For HTTYD, each score stands on its own as much as part of a connected whole. I’m going to miss these movies.

  8. MuggleAuror (Reply) on Sunday 10 March, 2019 at 05:16

    Hey James! Love your reviews as always.

    Do you think one of the main themes here sounds very similar to some of the tracks from Chicken Run?

    I was listening to this on Spotify and then Radio gave me Chicken Run and for a second I couldn’t tell whether it was the same soundtrack or not.