Reviewed by: Ruth Eshuis
CONTRIBUTOR—first time reviewer
How to make difficult decisions wisely
Listen to and value the advice of wise elders
Dragons and dinosaurs—discover how they are connected
Dragons in the Bible
Are dinosaurs mentioned in the BIBLE? Answer
|Featuring:||Jay Baruchel … Hiccup (voice)
America Ferrera … Astrid (voice)
F. Murray Abraham … Grimmel (voice)
Cate Blanchett … Valka (voice)
Gerard Butler … Stoick (voice)
Craig Ferguson … Gobber (voice)
Jonah Hill … Snotlout (voice)
Christopher Mintz-Plasse … Fishlegs (voice)
Kristen Wiig … Ruffnut (voice)
Kit Harington … Eret (voice)
Justin Rupple … Tuffnut (voice)
David Tennant … Spitelout / Ivar the Witless (voice)
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Mad Hatter Entertainment
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This is a story about cute and exciting dragons and their heroic riders finding a mysterious and beautiful hideaway. But the film is also so much more. The dragon and his boy Hiccup have grown up and must develop into separate leaders, allowing each to take a partner.
While Chief Hiccup and his friends continue to conduct dragon rescue raids, the cheerful village of Berk has become over-full. When they come under new attack from a self-proclaimed dragon killer named Grimmel, Hiccup realizes they must flee. He and his dragon-chief Toothless must lead their communities to a safe new home, and Hiccup has his hopes set on The Hidden World, a Utopia (heaven) for dragons.
Meanwhile Hiccup and Astrid are considering marriage, and Toothless has also found a mate for life, and so wrestles with adjusting his loyalties. What will they each discover, and can they bravely let go?
This mainly involves insults, modified profanities and scary scenes.
The fiery opening sequence has an ominous feel and repeated references to demons, but this is quickly diffused with reality, and light humor which continues throughout.
Magic is not involved in the story—despite passing references to hellish things and worrisome symbols (e.g., totem pole, ancestor statue, crows perched on back of villain’s throne). These seem to mainly be present to summarize the superstitious thinking and practices of the ancient Viking world. The only seriously religious moment is during a wedding that combines symbolism to show spiritual blessing for the couple’s union, with hands wrapped in the female celebrant’s sash, then touched with a staff tipped with the wooden head of a creature, perhaps a dragon. The story also ends with an interesting suggestion of the origin of many Viking legends and customs.
LANGUAGE—Characters do exclaim using “gods” at least 5 times, nearly all mimicking true blasphemies. Some viewers will consider this jarring and unacceptable, while others will be relieved that they left our Lord’s name out of it. Parents may pause to consider whether they’d want to hear their children repeat these phrases.
Negative messages and examples are mainly shown early on, before the characters learn their lessons. Some are broad statements such as “Relationships are nothing but pain and misery” (in context, this occurs as a couple teases one another, smiling) and “Tie the knot. That should fix everything.” Of course, these are not realistic and are likely meant to be sarcastic.
The villain says, “They don’t have a leader, just a boy,” but he is later proven wrong. This fits with 1 Timothy 1:4 which says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young,” as even young people have the potential for leading well with godly wisdom.
Insults regarding intelligence and belittling each other are more unpleasant features.
Due to this being a story about gender roles, courtship and marriage, there is much to discuss here.
Male characters continually refer to their apparently-wonderful physical features such as muscles, height, facial hair, deep voice and strength, to emphasise their stereotypical ‘manliness.’ Most of the time, these claims of superior features are ridiculous, and it is good that later an older leader reminds the boys that inner traits can also make one manly. The awkward teenage moments have been included with a purpose: to contrast with male and female characters who prove themselves to be worthy and admirable, despite having none of those outward traits. This matches with how God sees and values people, as “the Lord does not look at the things that people look at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
One friend who appears to be almost universally a bad example even forces Hiccup’s face to plunge into the “full manly beard” on his chest, and forces “Hiccey” to listen to his advice about romance and how to “man up.” He calls this “boy talk.” Another teen boy has a crush on a mother, however this is wisely dampened by the woman. In an awkward moment, a villager says to a woman, “With you wearing the pants, there’s still hope,” but all around respond to this with embarrassment.
There is no nudity or skin-hugging attire, but, apart from the main 2 women, all female characters wear bikini-like breastplates over their armor. Jokes briefly use the terms ‘butt’ and ‘burning undies’ once each, and once the ambiguous term “wedded bliss.” A female character who features heavily also calls unnecessary attention to her looks, including an instance in the food hall when she lays seductively along a table—fully clothed—and sensually says, “Gorg-e-ous!” Another time she says, “Marriage? Gross! …unless it’s me.” Someone else gasps, “The M word!”
Is formalized marriage becoming obsolete? Answer
(Some worldly people claim that traditional marriages don’t work and that this practice should be abandoned. What does the Bible say about marriage?)
As for the key relationship between Astrid and Hiccup, their friends notably call them “practically married,” yet Hiccup is clearly shown to be sleeping alone at night in a tent just for him and his dragon. Apart from brief kisses and friends-zone play, no premarital physical intimacy is suggested.
The dragons, too, are only ever seen behaving themselves in public.
Parents will do well to cautiously choose whether to expose their children to the high levels of violence. I almost selected ‘moderate’ for this aspect because the creators have tried to tone down most of the violence—for example, clanging swords that never draw blood and a crossbow firing darts that only ever cause sleep. There’s no gore or definite deaths. There are deliberate pauses and light moments of humor help to remind that these are just humans and animals, not supernatural beings. However, much time is devoted to the battles, and there is some dread. It would be a scary movie for most children, and the amount of slobber and acid may make it uncomfortable for anyone.
Be warned that there are also monsters resembling scorpions and insects. Dragons have names such as Goregutter and Deathcreeper. There is mistreatment of animals, and, even though it’s only animated, most children would feel strongly for the tightly-bound creatures which look so much like our pets and have made their audience feel an emotional connection to them. Traps and chains are used. Threats are made (by the villain) to man and beast. There is stealing, raids conducted as though they are pirates, and scenes of desperation during combat. One sudden collision during flight is likely to make viewers jump or hearts pound, especially in 3D.
Some of the insulting banter among villagers is akin with bullying behavior. In my opinion, it is excessive and unnecessary. An example of this is “I feel like my sister is all the time dumb.” And, “People who fly with babies are the worst.”
Thankfully the villain, Grimmel, is not easy to like and does not receive much screen-time nor admiration from any other character. Although a villager says he is clever (“a predator, single-minded and patient”), his excuse for doing evil is shallow and unpersuasive. “When I was a boy… I killed it… that simple act of courage made me a hero.” He is accused of being a snake. He receives monetary gain from his killing. When characters discuss hiding from him, someone says, “Greedy humans always find a way” (to ruin good plans). They are all sad because creation cannot live at peace “yet.”
Fortunately, as Christians, we know that evil will not ultimately triumph, because Jesus Christ has crushed the head of the evil serpent known as Satan and will usher in the reign of peace on Earth, when even wild animals will live at peace with each other.
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL
There is no drug usage in this film, unless you count a tranquilizer dart (filled with venom from the scorpion-dragon) and its sleepy effects on animals and people. The villain later explains that he keeps his dragon-slaves under control with use of their own venom.
There’s no definite consumption of alcohol, though at one stage a toast is declared, and four friends raise wooden pint mugs and down the contents. No drunken behavior is shown or implied. Food and drink are used in a large food hall, never a designated drinking area. In another room, the villain pours himself a beverage from a pitcher, and the type of vessels make it look like water until he says, “Mm, that’s good.”
Other: Flashbacks occur. A small child asks, “Dad, are you going to get us a new mom?” There is a struggle for a ‘parent’ to let their ‘child’ go to start their own family.
For those who are not troubled by the above issues, the core messages of this story may warm your heart, as it did mine.
The great quest for Hiccup and Toothless is to protect ‘the flock’ through wise leadership and trusting the wisdom of elders. An elder gently rebukes the young team for “relying too much on dragons and not enough on one another,” and there are many other pieces of good advice about leading better together as a couple or team.
The town’s identity is also expressed in a similar way to how Christians are instructed to understand the Church, the community of people led by Jesus. “This is our home… but Berk is more than a place. I say it is us, the people. Berk goes wherever we go.”
Teenagers’ questions are explored, such as, ‘Am I manly?’ and ‘What makes a man “marriage material”? There is positive portrayal of multiple men crying at appropriate moments. There is realistic awkwardness from males in the early stages of courtship, but this abates as they each grow up into their new roles—and the females are not free of awkwardness or errors, either. One person declares that his wife is “the only woman for me,” and a different woman sighs, “I like a sensitive man.” There is some hint of androgyny, but no homosexuality or gender fluidity.
Portrayal of the process of courtship is well handled, too, although some advice from Hiccup’s friends is to be rejected. Fortunately, the film usually points out the shallow foolishness of these one-liners and holds up to a good alternative example of leadership and true love. Perhaps the greatest quote is from an elder who says, “With love comes loss. Sometimes it hurts, but in the end it’s worth it. There’s no greater gift than love.”
This is later lived out in an act of love showing that a leader is prepared to even give up his life to save someone else. This reminded me of the God of love found in the Bible who sent His Son to rescue us with His own life, saying, “Greater love has no man than that he lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
A great and surprising highlight of the film is how the community and its leaders respect and value marriage. Overall, there’s a sense of wonder and desire to move toward marriage. This is shown in the awestruck pause while Hiccup watches his dragon friend play with a new mate, and later when in the middle of a battle Hiccup and Astrid stand face to face smiling, amazed with each other and their partnership. Friends appear to be wanting to follow in their steps, trying to find or attract partners. And they say to the lovebirds, “Get married… like a proper couple.” It recognizes that marriage involves building shared purpose, caring concern and hard work—it’s not just about romance or a spark.
Also, subtly addressed is the role of a female partner as she supports and complements her male’s headship. One female is told, “He thinks he has to lead alone. He doesn’t realize the strength you have together.” She receives thanks from her partner for supporting him despite her doubts, thus bringing stability and strengthening. The male and female initiate action interchangeably, though at times the male’s view is the main one sought, or he clearly holds the final authority. And it caught my eye at one picturesque moment that the female dragon takes her place sitting close beside her mate, together in silky black and white atop a white rock that resembles a wedding cake, just like a bride and groom. Her head is tucked just below Toothless’ chin, almost as though they are one flesh.
In terms of stand-out characters, the dragon couple certainly steal the show, thanks to intricately expressive facial movements, body language and sound effects. In that regard—and the beauty of the Hidden World—this third installment is well worth the wait.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is everything the trailers promised and more. It is interesting, light, colorful and full of meaning for relationships, with its strong positivity about marriage. However, children are too young to benefit much from this film and are rather more likely to be influenced by its negative elements such as grating insults. Apart from a few cute dragon moments, this is not a film for children: it’s the teens and young adults who will be glad they spent their money on a ticket.
The film brings the “How to Train Your Dragon” journey to a satisfying resolution. Along the way the viewer enjoys expert animation that serves the storyline well and makes main characters even more endearing.
As an animated adventure for teens and young adults, there is much to like and learn from. We ride waves of bravery and tenderness, love and loss, errors and corrections, sacrifice and bittersweet success. We laugh often, but also see a deeper current of longing for all to be as it should be in the world, with each animal and human resting gladly in his or her God-given role.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.