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New films: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World & Fighting With my Family

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Written and Directed by Dean DeBlois

Since the tiny island and village of Berk became a sanctuary for dragons, where people and dragons work and play alongside each other in harmony rather than fight against each other, life has been idyllic. Except perhaps for the crowding. Hiccup and friends have been freeing captive dragons and bringing them back to Berk, but Berk is now bursting at the seams. This has also made Berk’s location a prize among the dragon traders and catchers who have lost their livelihood.

This is the setup for the third, and reportedly the last, of these films “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” And it’s another solid film, which shouldn’t be surprising as all three have had the same director, Dean DeBlois, also known for “Lilo & Stitch,” so there’s a continuity of care and content that’s delightful.

My reaction to the third film is much as it was to the second. I’ve enjoyed all three but the first one was such a surprise and so immersive that it’s simply difficult to capture that first time feeling again. The sense of wonder as Hiccup flew for the first time with Toothless, in the 2010 film, won me over even more than the far more extravagant scenes of flight had in the previous year’s “Avatar.” Compared to that, the subsequent films, while still being extraordinarily well done, seem a little narratively mundane. We’re back to another evil villain, seemingly unbeatable, and a test for Hiccup’s leadership and self-confidence.

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To be clear, I enjoyed the film and would recommend it. It’s just that the series set such a high bar at the start. But the charm is still there, the animation is still great, the voice acting is still excellent and well matched to the roles, it’s just a tiny bit less exuberant.

Fighting With My Family
Written and Directed by Stephen Merchant

The central character in “Fighting With My Family,” Saraya Knight, is a young woman who’s grown up in a family that lives and breathes professional wrestling. But not the glitz and glamor of high profile American professional wrestling. This is the community hall scale, hand out homemade flyers in the market, bring your own ring in the back of your van scale of British professional wrestling. And from this background, and driven by her hard hustling parents and wannabe superstar brother, she’s given a chance at a WWE contract.

It’s a light and fun film, albeit a little thin on plot, with colorful characters that seem a little too large for life. Until, that is, you see the home videos of the real family over the end credits – at which point you might well wish you’d had another hour of those rather than the film you just watched. Not because it’s a bad film, but because the family is every bit as large in real life as on screen and some of the craziest lines of the screenplay are lifted straight from the clips.

It’s easy to see why producers who included Dwayne Johnson and writer/director Stephen Merchant (“The Office”) would want to retell this story, but the film is at its best when it’s being that crazy family dramedy, more so than when it’s being a relatively quiet underdog training film. If you didn’t know it was a true story, or at least as honest as a film about wrestling outcomes can be, you wouldn’t believe it. It’s fun but it somewhat ironically feels more fake than it is.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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