Here is a fun fact about me: I have seen every televised piece of original franchise “How to Train Your Dragon” (HTTYD) media ever made. This is mostly because growing up, it was the only thing my sibling and I could agree on watching together. This summer, I went through a bit of a rough patch, and as pseudo-therapy I rewatched almost the entirety of the HTTYD franchise. I am writing this article partially so other people know the wonders of the HTTYD cinematic universe, and partially as a way to justify how I chose to spend my time.
Here is my considered review of each piece of HTTYD media, starting with …
“How to Train Your Dragon” (2010) – The movie that started it all. “How to Train Your Dragon” tells the story of Hiccup, the scrawny son of the chief of Berk (a little village on a freezing rock of an island). In Berk, everyone kills dragons. Hiccup and his friends (Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, Ruffnut and Tuffnut) have to go into training to learn how to kill dragons. Hiccup, however, befriends a Night Fury dragon called Toothless and over the course of the film has to prove that dragons are not the enemy. The film is a basic underdog story, but it’s very well done. It has a real emotional core that’s missing from most DreamWorks movies, and it’s a story with near-universal appeal.
The assorted ten minute specials (2010) – When I say I’ve seen every piece of televised HTTYD media, I mean everything. These random animated specials include such famed titles as “Legend of the Boneknapper” and “The Book of Dragons.” They are goofy. They are superfluous. I love them. They are entirely skippable and have basically zero bearing on the HTTYD universe (at one point all the dragons go off and have babies and it’s never mentioned again), but you should watch them if only for classic lines like “it was the hammerhead yak riding the hammerhead whale!”
“Riders of Berk” (2012) – Before we get to “HTTYD 2,” we have a whole host of TV shows to get through. “Riders of Berk” picks up right where the first movie left off, and goes through some interesting stuff about how the village of Berk adjusts from killing dragons to having them as very dangerous pets. Most of the time, the main kids have to stop various evil people from blowing up the village by blowing them up first. Now, the animation is janky as anything. And the target audience is quite young, leading to some heavy handed moralizing. But the heart of the story is quite good, deals with all the questions you might have after “HTTYD 1,” and the voice acting is excellent. We also get introduced to some of the franchise’s best characters in Dagur and Heather, plus this is the point where all the dragons finally get names. Overall a good show, but not HTTYD at its best.
“Defenders of Berk” (2012) – This could technically be lumped in with “Riders of Berk,” but I’m separating them because “Defenders of Berk” is where the TV series really hits its stride. At this point the kids are worthy of their Dragon Riders title. The excessive moralizing is gone, replaced by more thrilling adventure stories. The show masters the art of the two-parter. And the finale is just a ton of fun. The animation is still messy, but tolerable. This series also features the first HTTYD villain redemption arc, of which there will be many. It’s not a show that can be watched on its own, but it definitely stands out as its own creation, especially compared to its predecessor. Plus, Fishlegs and the twins finally get a chance to shine.
“Dragons: Race to the Edge” (2015) – Nope, we’re not at HTTYD 2 yet, we’ve got one TV show left. And what a TV show! Ok, hear me out: this may be the best thing the HTTYD franchise ever produced. It’s six seasons of nonstop action, drama, character development and jaw-dropping twists. The show is set between the events of “Defenders of Berk” and the second movie, making the main characters roughly 18. As the characters grow, so does the tone of the show, and it becomes much less childish and much more complex. Now, to properly enjoy this show, you need to have watched the two previous TV shows. A good chunk of the plot comes from those shows, as well as most of the supporting cast. The basic plot is that the Dragon Riders leave Berk to set up their own outpost and do battle with a bunch of dragon hunters. But it all gets far more complicated very quickly, and by the end, the show links itself beautifully to “HTTYD 2.” This show really represents the best that the HTTYD franchise has to offer. Best villain? Check. Best story? Check. Best character arcs? Check. It’s just great.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” (2014) – TV shows over, we are back in familiar territory. HTTYD came out before Race to the Edge, but in the chronology of the HTTYD-verse, it’s later, and the main characters are now 20. This movie is brimming with plot. Hiccup and co. must defeat Drago Bludvist, who wants to control all dragons. Hiccup also reunites with his long lost mother, learns how to step up and be chief of Berk, and assists in yet another villain redemption arc. Now, this movie does have some flaws. The character design of Drago is, well, questionable. The character development of all the dragon riders but Hiccup and Astrid seems to go out the window. But the movie is beautifully animated, the story is strong, and it features what is quite possibly the most heartbreaking scene in all of HTTYD (if you’ve seen the film, you know the one I’m talking about).
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” (2019) – This is where my argument for HTTYD’s greatness falters a bit, because I mostly pretend this movie doesn’t exist. There are some funny moments and strong character interactions but I’m still not over the heartbreaking and deeply unsatisfying ending. But hey, the movie looks great, the villain is scary and there’s an interesting message at the heart of the film. Too bad the message isn’t quite in line with the rest of the franchise.
“How to Train Your Dragon: Homecoming” (2019) – The only reason I can get over “HTTYD 3” is because this lovely 20-minute short exists. Essentially, it’s a HTTYD Christmas special, where we catch up with our characters a few years after the events of “HTTYD 3.” There are some surprisingly emotional moments. But most importantly, it tells you that Toothless did not leave Hiccup forever to go to the Hidden World with his new girlfriend. Nope, Hiccup and Toothless just went on paternity leave for a few years and now they are back together and everything is fine! This is the end of the franchise so far, but I like to imagine that all the dragons came back and everything is back to normal with the Berkians and the Dragon Riders.