IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Dean DeBlois Talks 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' Blu-ray/DVD and 'How to Train Your Dragon 3'

Tuesday, 04 November 2014 15:15 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Dean DeBlois Talks 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' Blu-ray/DVD and 'How to Train Your Dragon 3'

Writer and director Dean DeBlois is the mastermind behind the extremely popular animated film franchise How to Train Your Dragon

DeBlois began his career working on such animated projects as Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, but it was the Dragon series that put him on the map. ‘2010s How to Train Your Dragon earned almost $500 million at the box office and was nominated for two Academy Awards. Its sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2 earned over $600 million at the box office and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning November 11th. DeBlois is currently writing the conclusion of his trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon 3, which is scheduled for release on June 9th, 2017.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 takes place several years after the events of the first film. When Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless discover an ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. Hiccup also discovers his long lost mother Valka, voiced by Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett. In addition to Baruchel and Blanchett, the film also features the voice talents of Gerard Butler (Olympus Has Fallen), Craig Ferguson (Brave), America Ferrera (Cesar Chavez), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (ParaNorman), T.J. Miller (Big Hero 6), Kristen Wiig (The Skeleton Twins), Kit Harrington (Pompeii), and Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy). 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with writer/director Dean DeBlois about his work on How to Train Your Dragon 2, as well as an update on How to Train Your Dragon 3. The accomplished filmmaker discussed his latest movie, making the sequel darker than the original, why the audience is growing with Hiccup, Toothless and Hiccup’s relationship, the fate of Hiccup’s father, casting Cate Blanchett as his mother, concluding Hiccup’s journey in How to Train Your Dragon 3, its dragon-centric story, and when DeBlois will be done writing it. 

Here is what Dean DeBlois had to say about How to Train Your Dragon 2 Blu-ray/DVD, and How to Train Your Dragon 3:

IAR: To begin with, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a much darker tone than the first film and is similar to The Empire Strikes Back in that way. Was your intention always to go progressively darker with the second and upcoming third movie in the trilogy?

Dean DeBlois: Studios are always pretty much allergic to the word “dark.” They see this is a negative instead of interesting. I loved The Empire Strikes Back when I was a kid. It took everything that I loved about Star Wars and dialed it up in every way. It was a great inspiration to me. It got me to start writing my own stories and wanting to be immersed in that kind of world. For me, the How To Train Your Dragon world has some similarities in that it is a mythic time and a mythic place. Any number of islands can exist out there. Any number of new dragons and different tribes, so it is a world that kind of goes on and on. When asked to come up with ideas for a sequel, I thought the material was definitely rich, but I did not want it to feel without purpose. I pitched the idea of a trilogy. That we could chart Hiccup’s coming of age until he becomes the wise leader in the third film, but to do it in three acts. Three different films will represent the three acts. They responded to that very strongly, so I thought that that would be a great way to go. We can trace out threads from the first film and develop them in the second one. Then set up ideas that have to transpire in the third film, and have the whole thing feel like it has a sense of unity. Part of that was making sure that we did not repeat ourselves. By the end of the first movie, Hiccup was a character that had everything that he wanted. His fifteen-year-old self was quite content. He had his dad’s affection, he had the acceptance of the town, and he had the attention of the girl he was fighting for, not to mention a super cool dragon. He put an end to an age-old war. As a town hero, he did not have much to really start a story with.

Since the film is a trilogy, kids that loved the first movie can actually grow with the character of Hiccup as the series progresses. Do you think that helps your ability to tell more mature stories in future installments?

DeBlois: Yeah, and it is kind of neat. I loved that about the Harry Potter series. If you got in early, you got to grow up with the characters. It is neat to see them mature and start dealing with different problems, as they get older. That inspired me and I was also trying to find a story worth telling in Hiccup’s life that did not repeat what we did in the first movie. Meeting him at different crossroads in his life, that sort of right of passage, and getting into battle with uncertainty. Being not quite sure of the person you are, but feeling the pressure from parents, your friends and your environment to assimilate from what they want you to. It is a struggle I think for a lot of people. Putting Hiccup in those shoes and having him get to realize that by meeting Valka, who seems to represent all of the wild abandonment he could wish for in his life, to find himself against the backdrop of those two competing forces, is I think a compelling story and worth telling.

Can you talk about the evolution of Toothless and Hiccup’s relationship and how that manifests in How to Train Your Dragon 2?

DeBlois: I very much believe in the universal truth of change and transformation in movies. To start with Hiccup and Toothless as best friends, inseparable and bullet proof without challenging that relationship, I think it would make for a dull story line. When I was first thinking about it, I thought that was the natural place to go to where Toothless becomes an enemy again. Not only is he taken away, but also he is forced to become a weapon directed against Hiccup. That would be the extreme place to go to. I always thought that we would end up softening it a bit, but I think it was such a compelling idea that he would be turned into a weapon that was targeting Hiccup. Then to have Stoick (Butler) leap into the fray and take a bullet for his son was definitely a great idea. I guess I feel emboldened by the sense of daring we had in the first movie. Hiccup loses his leg, and the audience accepted that. We can continue to take a few risks. If Hiccup and Toothless can live through that and get to the other side, and if Toothless can be won back by Hiccup, well then it makes them more powerful than ever. Their bond becomes stronger than ever. The trick in all of that was to make sure that the audience never faulted Toothless for it and they did not hold it against him in the end. We were very careful about how we let those events transpire to make sure that Toothless seemed like he was as much of a victim as Hiccup and Stoick were, to make you feel really bad for Toothless. It was not until we tested the movie that we really got confirmation that nobody blames Toothless for what happened there. They knew that he was manipulated.

Did you always plan that Hiccup’s journey to adulthood would include the death of his father?

DeBlois: Originally in the first versions of the story, I wanted somebody that was close to Hiccup to protect them from the blast. But I originally had Gobber (Ferguson) do it because I just thought that Gerard Butler was too important in terms of casting to kill him off. But actually I was pitching a very early version of it to Guillermo del Toro (Book of Life). He was just sitting around, and we were catching up with each other. I pitched him that and he said, “I think you are killing off the wrong character. It should be the dad because the whole story is about passing on the mantel of chief to Hiccup. If the father is there, he is always going to be the crutch that prevents Hiccup from fully stepping into those shoes.” I thought it was pretty smart so I moved it from Gobber to Stoick. For me that was personally resonant because I was 19 when I lost my dad. I know what the power, sacrifice and bravery of a parent can be. As you move forward with your life and adulthood, to be able to reflect back on those moments that at times seems kind of trivial or somehow unimportant, they take on great importance in terms of the lessons of your life. It felt like a very good decision to me.

Can you talk about casting Cate Blanchett as Hiccup’s long lost mother?

DeBlois: Well when I saw Elizabeth, I was really taken with Cate Blanchett. I thought she really portrayed a character that had great authority and a commanding presence, but at the same time this very sympathetic vulnerability to her. That was a combination of traits that I had imagined for Valka. She is a character who is a vigilante living out in the wild protecting dragons from trappers, but at the same time living with this harbored regret for not having been a part of her son’s life and coming to realize that all these years later he was just like her. With that balance in mind, I had Cate kind of running through my head as I wrote the dialogue. Then I actually ran into her at the Oscars in 2011. She was sipping a drink before the ceremony began, and I walked up to her and told her that I had written a part for her in How to Train Your Dragon 2. She laughed and said that the first movie was a big hit in her household. She has three boys, and they watch it regularly. I told her about the character and she was like, “Well I am not doing anything so send me the script.” That was that.

Will How to Train Your Dragon 3 be the conclusion of Hiccup’s journey into manhood?

DeBlois: Yes, exactly. He is destined to become a wise Viking chief. He has a few adventures left in him, but that is mostly going to transpire in the last movie. I definitely want to complete the trilogy with a strong sense of integrity and a sense of unity, but I am very inspired by author Cressida Cowell’s ending as well. Her ambition was always to explain what happened to dragons and why they are not here anymore. I thought there was something really powerful in that because it is immediately emotional but it is also mysterious. You wonder what happened, how did that transpire, where they went, and all the mysteries involved? 

So the film will also be a conclusion to the story of the dragons, is that correct?

DeBlois: Yes, I think it is a very dragon-centric story actually. I mean as much as Hiccup is now spinning into the role of chiefdom, so is Toothless because we have now ended the movie with him becoming the new alpha. He has as much weight and responsibility on him as Hiccup does.

Finally, where are you in the script writing process? Are you still hashing out the story, or have you begun writing already?

DeBlois: Just a few days ago, I pitched a very detailed outline to Jeffrey Katzenberg and Bill Damaschke, the bosses over at DreamWorks Animation. I am about to begin the screenplay and will be turning in a draft of that by the end of the year. We are moving ahead.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 will be available on Blu-ray/DVD beginning November 11th. 

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