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Animated Bible Studies Christian Living

Bible Study – How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World (2019)

This Bible Study is for the movie, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3: THE HIDDEN WORLD. Download the printer-friendly document down below. You can then watch the movie with your Bible Study group (we recommend 2-15 people), and talk about the Christian values found in the movie. In this study, the discussion topic is entitled “Is Good Always Best?”.

 

This film has been rated PG

for adventure action and some mild rude humor.

 

 

We hope you enjoy Geeks Under Grace’s Bible Studies. They are completely free for you and your group to print and use. This is possible because of our Patrons. If you would like to help support us through Patreon, please go to:

www.Patreon.com/GeeksUnderGrace

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Action/Adventure Animated Movies Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy

Review: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Director: Dean DeBlois

Writer: Dean DeBlois

Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, F. Murray Abraham

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG

As an animation studio, DreamWorks’ crown of jewels is adorned with some fairly faded stones. Sure, Shrek was a real hit in its heyday, but unlike the earlier works of rival Pixar, “dated” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Shark Tale was at least dated – if not dead – on arrival. Don’t even get me started on Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda.

It’s a bit odd, honestly. This is the same studio that produced The Prince of Egypt, my favorite animated film of all time and what I think can be objectively considered one of the best animated films ever made. They also made powerful technical and artistic in-roads with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, but if many had to pin the death of traditional hand-drawn animation on any one film, it would be Shrek. Irony.

Thankfully, within the mire of mediocrity with such largely forgettable titles like Over the Hedge, Bee Movie, Turbo, and Megamind, there was the strong, beating heart of How to Train Your Dragon, a Norse-inspired boy-and-his-dog tale with a solid sense of world-building, fun characters, grand stories, and confident writing.

I’ve stated before anything can be ruined by overexposure, and with two feature releases and at least two Netflix series’ with multiple seasons, a good case could be made that what is undeniably the finest jewel in DreamWorks’ crown at present should perhaps be put to rest. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World promises something of an “end of the road” tale. All good stories must come to an end. Let’s see how this one fares.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Some of the dragons — particularly in the opening and climactic sequences, along with the dragon training scenes — are scary looking and cause a lot of destruction. The dragons have burned down homes, killed random characters, and maimed a couple of central characters. The huge “queen dragon” is big and imposing, and is just as likely to swallow a smaller dragon as she is to crush humans in her way.

Language/Crude Humor: None

Sexual Content: Mild flirting and two brief kisses between Astrid and Hiccup. Very mild hints of possible homoeroticism.

Drug/Alcohol Use: None

Spiritual Content: Some passing references to Old Norse polytheism

Other Negative Themes: Some depictions of animal abuse

Positive Content: Hiccup’s actions prove cooperation and teamwork can be better than competition and animosity. By looking past the superficial, Hiccup discovered the dragons weren’t the blind, ruthless killers his people thought they were, and training a dragon had far more benefits than killing a dragon. Another important message is the love between a parent and child is unconditional and not based on whether the child is following in the parent’s footsteps. There’s also the message girls and women (the Vikings are surprisingly pro-girl-power) can be tough and fearless too, and brains can be just as powerful as brawn.

Hiccup may not look as tough as other Vikings his age, but he’s smart, courageous, and caring. His eventual popularity and sacrifice to save his fellow Vikings demonstrate just because someone looks like a “wimp” doesn’t mean much. Astrid is a positive role model for girls. Yes, she’s beautiful, but it’s not her looks that make her notable. She’s tough, hard-working, fearless, and loyal. Characters also demonstrate integrity and perseverance.

Review

Trilogies are a remarkably conventional format for the cinema, aren’t they? The three-act structure marries well with the average length of a standard feature film (roughly 30 min per act), and has been typical for the medium since the beginning. The trilogy also enables the story to pad its various meta arcs out into a longer format where the more episodic arcs dare not tread.

It has been argued quite convincingly Pixar’s Toy Story could be ranked as one of the greatest film trilogies ever made. Perhaps it should be considered for the title of greatest, period. Not only was there a poignant meta-arc to the entire breadth of the series, but each installment also managed its thread in the greater tapestry with finesse, reverence, and aplomb. One can easily enjoy each title as a stand-alone project, while also recognizing and appreciating how they contributed to something larger than the sum of their parts.

The first film centered on Buzz Lightyear coming to terms with his identity as a child’s plaything. In the second film, Woody had to come to terms with the fact being a child’s plaything meant his time with said child was coming to an end. After polishing such vibrant and brazen rounds loaded with the unapologetically existential message “nothing lasts forever,” there really wasn’t much left to do in the third go around except to aim and fire.

With the third and final installment of DreamWorks’ highly venerated How to Train Your Dragon series now released, a similar overarching ideal seems to permeate the animated fantasy. Based on the children’s book series authored by Cressida Cowell, the first film centered on a rather unconventional Black Stallion-inspired tale of a young viking chief’s son named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) coming to build a symbiotic relationship with Toothless, a fierce, obsidian-scaled flying dragon of a very rare breed. The unexpectedly gripping 2010 film ended with a new era of unity between man and beast, with our two heroes learning such bonds come at a significant price.

The somewhat less impactful 2014 sequel was handled exclusively by writer-director Dean Dublois, who had worked in tandem with Chris Sanders on the first movie, and made some maneuvers into darker territory for the series with critical alterations in the characters’ view on their place in the world and how to respond to it. Hiccup had to come to terms with the fact his typical approach of diplomacy to foreign invaders had some fatal weaknesses, pushing him to actually cowboy up and draw blood. I did find the addition of a single-minded villain with a dominance obsession paled in comparison to what was on offer before.

The primary threat in How to Train Your Dragon was something so primordial and uncanny it became something both more and less than a mere conventional antagonist. It was more since simple military tactics prove largely futile against a force of nature, but less since it had no motivation, save for primal instinct. With that said, aside from Djimon Hounsou’s remarkable shoot-for-the-moon vocal performance, How to Train Your Dragon 2’s Drago Bludvist left quite a bit to be desired in regard to motive and development.

Oddly enough, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (or simply How to Train Your Dragon 3 as it’s known internally at the studio) carries on with blind disregard for the Netflix programs that have been in production between the main films’ releases. While this is understandable, it may have helped to provide some context to the situation we come across first in this production, in which the human-dragon co-existence utopia appears to be coming apart at the seams. Honestly, that alone would have been enough to initiate a fairly compelling story even without the obligatory big bad villain that shuffles in later.

By way of family suggestion, I’ve been watching the Civilizations documentary series on Netflix. Making full use of Liev Schreiber’s narrating capabilities, the series explores the history of art and architecture throughout the span of human development. I was particularly fascinated by the ruins of citadels that were abandoned in places such as Aztec Mexico and Incan Peru. Upon seeing these massive fortifications reclaimed by nature with vines and other foliage twisting about the stone buildings, I got an image in my head of a grasshopper molting a skin it had outgrown. The cities could no longer accommodate the higher standard of living to which the people had become accustomed, and were left behind.

After having read upon so much from ideologues who champion cultural relics as sacrosanct badges of personal identity, the drama of the idealism versus the practicality of leaving what has been considered home for seven generations would have been a welcome thematic method of engagement here in Dublois’ film. Sadly, it isn’t the overpopulation of Berk that leads Hiccup to make the tough decision to leave for the fabled “Hidden World”. Instead, we have the introduction of Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), a dragon-killing warlord with a personal ambition to eradicate every last night fury still alive because that’s how he do.

As somewhat underwhelming as Drago Bludvist might have been, he had at least a rather compelling foundation to his character and drive. Grimmel, who bears an oddly youthful resemblance to Anton Ego from Pixar’s Ratatouille, doesn’t have much of a reason to be or do anything here except because the screenplay says so. With a few alterations, the story could have carried on just as well, if not better, without him or the egregious waste of Abraham’s talent. Well, whatever. There’s plenty of other dimensions to this story to unpack.

Hiccup and his childhood sweetheart Astrid (America Ferrera) seem to have had their relationship set back to zero. The two hem and haw about actually getting hitched and putting Hiccup’s chiefly duties to some practical use as though the last two movies’ worth of romantic involvement was all an act of some sort. It kind of took me out of the film for a good while, no matter how much the actors still give their most sincere and memorable deliveries.

Hiccup’s estranged mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), who became instantly iconic in the previous film through her mastery of human-dragon synergy, is sadly relegated to the background in this installment, hardly offering much of anything in the way of personal agency or even sagely insight to her tribe. The most significant thing that could be said about her now is she’s inadvertently caught the eye of Jonah Hill’s Snotlout, which leads to comedy bits that are slightly more awkward than amusing.

Hiccups’ other younger Viking pals get a few moments to bask in the spotlight with their quirks and shenanigans. Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple) get the lion’s share of opportunities to make us laugh, with Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) getting the short end of the stick in most ways. While I’m on the subject, what the heck is up with Gobber (Craig Ferguson) and Eret Son of Eret (Kit Harington)?

Well, okay, I know perfectly well what’s going on there, but still. Dublois is openly gay, and so I’m not at all surprised to find subtle hints of possible future homoeroticism here. In all honesty, I’m surprised it was as subtle as it was. Mostly, it seems to have been written in such a way that one could legitimately interpret the interactions as not truly homoerotic at all and think nothing of the matter. I’m not sure whether to praise the restraint or criticize the selection at this point. Take it as you will, dear reader.

That’s especially impressive since this is definitively the end of the arc for this tale. Whatever gets established here will most likely not carry on into future installments. Okay, the odds of future projects either in theater or online streaming services is more likely than I thought at first, but the team here is clearly treating this with a great deal of finality. The heart of the story here, much like in the previous films, is the endearing but strained relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, and there is much to strain what they have together here.

As shown in the trailers, a major thread is the introduction of an even rarer ivory-colored female night fury (who Astrid affectionately dubs a “light fury”) over whom Toothless is immediately fascinated and smitten. One of the admirable creative decisions made for the world of these movies is there are no talking animals, so the scenes in which Toothless attempts to woo the light fury are played over absolutely arresting dialogue-free sequences of natural wonder and flight. These moments showcase some of the most stunning imagery I’ve seen in CGI animation recently, and they’ll be staying with me for some time. With John Powell once again managing the musical score, aesthetically speaking, this franchise has been given the most honorable sendoff.

Adding to the honor of said sendoff is a smattering of flashbacks to Hiccup’s earlier memories of his father Stoic the Vast (Gerard Butler) giving context to Hiccup’s seeking the titular “hidden world” as a new safe haven for both the dragons and people of Berk. These get transmogrified into a homily uneasily similar to Odin’s spiel in Thor: Ragnarok that “Asgard is a people, not a place” with similar deflations in the significance of their home being razed and left behind. From this, I should make a note “bittersweet” isn’t necessarily a token of praise for tonality.

With all that established, I can’t say this doesn’t serve as a worthwhile ending to a beloved film series that has been running for nearly a decade. Learning to let things come to an end is an especially difficult task for anyone, but it harbors a peculiar challenge for creative storytellers. Many have likened figuring out how to end a story to figuring out how to land from a flight – a task so difficult even birds mess up on occasion. After so many moving and transcendent flights taken with these characters, one wonders if coming back to earth is even viable. I would certainly like to think so, and with such an unforgettably grounded and solid ending, so would this film.

Categories
Bible Studies Christian Living

Bible Study: Ocean’s 8 (2018)

This Bible Study is for the movie, OCEAN’S 8. Download the printer-friendly document down below. You can then watch the movie with your Bible Study group (we recommend 2-15 people), and talk about the Christian values found in the movie. In this study, the discussion topic is entitled “When The Plan Goes South”.

 

This film has been rated PG-13

for language, drug use, and some suggestive content.

 

 

We hope you enjoy Geeks Under Grace’s Bible Studies. They are completely free for you and your group to print and use. This is possible because of our Patrons. If you would like to help support us through Patreon, please go to:

www.Patreon.com/GeeksUnderGrace

Categories
Bible Studies Christian Living

Bible Study: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

This Bible Study is for the movie, THOR: RAGNAROK. Download the printer-friendly document down below. You can then watch the movie with your Bible Study group (we recommend 2-15 people), and talk about the Christian values found in the movie. In this study, the discussion topic is about “What Heroes Do”.

 

This film has been rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.

 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD BIBLE STUDY

 

We hope you enjoy Geeks Under Grace’s Bible Studies. They are completely free for you and your group to print and use. This is possible because of our Patrons. If you would like to help support us through Patreon, please go to:

www.Patreon.com/GeeksUnderGrace

Categories
Action/Adventure Movies Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy

Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

Director: Taika Waititi

Writers: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson

Genre: Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Superhero, Action Adventure, Comedy

Rating: PG-13

Thor is my personal favorite Marvel superhero, one of the main reasons being that he’s a Norse god. Throughout my life, I’ve heavily researched Norse mythology and I’ve enjoyed the plethora of references throughout the past two Thor films. This new film is now straying out of its quintessential fantasy genre and into science-fiction, which has caused quite a shift in the tone of the Thor movies. Is this a good shift or a bad shift?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: A character is melted into a pile of blue goo, a character’s eye is slashed out leaving just a bloody socket, a character is bitten by a giant wolf, many characters are stabbed with swords, spears, and projectiles, and undead monsters are disemboweled.

Language/Crude Humor: Minor swears such as d***, sh**, and h*** were used sparingly. There are several jokes about a portal that is nicknamed “the Devil’s Anus.”

Spiritual Content: Thor is heavily steeped in Norse mythology and magic.

Sexual Content: Thor is shown shirtless at one point (like he is in every movie he’s in) and the Hulk is always shirtless.

Drug/Alcohol Reference: Thor enjoys drinking and he drinks a large stein of ale. Valkyrie drinks to the point of intoxication on several occasions.

Other Negative Content: Characters backstab (sometimes literally) other characters.

Positive Content: Forgiveness, inner strength, and the bond between brothers despite past hurts.

Review

Since Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has sought out the Infinity Stones, but so far his search has been in vain so he has taken it upon himself to stop the monster Surtur (Clancy Brown) from causing Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. After defeating this monster, he returns home to find that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been disguising himself as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and has banished his father to Earth. The brothers find Odin in Norway where the king speaks to them one last time before he passes on and seconds after Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Norse goddess of the dead walks out of a portal. She easily crushes Mjollnir and Thor calls for Heimdall (Idris Elba) to open the Bifrost. The Bifrost opens and takes Thor, Loki, and Hela up into the heavens. In the heat of battle, Hela pushes Thor and Loki out of the Bifrost’s pull. Thor lands on the planet Sakar and is promptly captured by a bounty hunter and given to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) as a gladiator. Now Thor seeks to defeat the champion so he may win his freedom and return to Asgard to save it from Hela.

Emotional tension is a massive driving force in a film. It’s what makes you care about the characters and empathize with them during their good and bad times. Comic relief is a storytelling tactic used to break up some of this emotional tension, so the readers aren’t overwhelmed, but I believe there’s a fine line between comic relief and just overdoing it. I understand Thor: Ragnarok is classified as a comedy, but I’ve never thought of the Thor films as comedies, so I was a bit shocked to see that as a genre on IMDB. From just the film’s opening, I could immediately feel this genre shift. This film did not have the reverence and seriousness as the past two films did. I didn’t mind this too much–from the start.

What first bothered me was a reenactment on Asgard of Loki’s presumed death while fighting Malekith during Thor: The Dark World. In the movie, this was an extremely emotional sequence portraying grief and anguish that choked up anyone watching it, but the play reenacted it in a cheesy way that seemed to suck the severity out of that scene. This isn’t the only sequence of death being turned into a joke. There are several gladiator corpses just lying in a hallway and the character Korg (Taika Waititi) brushes it off like it’s no big deal. The Grandmaster melts a captured slave into a pile of goo in front of Thor and the horror is taken out of it by a character commenting on how the goo smells like burnt toast.

Furthermore, four key characters from the past Thor films are just brushed aside like they don’t mean anything. Three of Thor’s friends are killed by Hela and not given more than a brief dramatic crescendo in the score. Jane is shrugged off as if she was a high school crush and Thor hadn’t done everything in his power to save her from the Aether in Thor: The Dark World. These all seemed like cheap ways to trim down the cast. Only two major deaths out of the five major character deaths in this film had any real emotional weight and one of the characters we only knew in this film only.

The jokes destroyed the majority of the tension in the first half of the film. Though my fellow moviegoer enjoyed the comedy, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat as I shocked myself by thinking, “I actually don’t like this movie.” Fortunately, the latter half of the film redeemed it for me to a point. The director finally let up on the jokes so some emotional tension could build, but even at the end during an emotional peak, two jokes were inserted that ruined the moment.

Now I did enjoy the Norse elements. It made my mythological geek heart happy to see Hela (an actual female lord of the dead), Fenris the Norse wolf of the apocalypse, and valkyries included in a film. It also delighted me to see Thor grow into an even better man and a more worthy king. With each movie, he’s in he develops into a more amazing superhero. I also liked that Hulk/Bruce Banner got to be more focal in a film. Since Thor: Ragnarok has a smaller cast, this allows for more time spent with each character and the Hulk/Bruce got his fair share of development. Additionally, Doctor Strange’s brief cameo was a joy to see.

The score had some interesting choices. From the beginning, it incorporated a lot of techno and synth. I would have hoped this would have been quarantined to the more modern parts of the universe as opposed to Thor’s world as well. It seemed like a strange mishmash of tones.

Overall, Thor: Ragnarok was bold to pioneer into merging two very different genres and inserting comedy, though I don’t believe the comedy was the best choice. Thor will always be my favorite superhero, but unfortunately, this is my least favorite Thor film.