How to Train Your Dragon 2

In 2010, DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon was a successful movie due to its effective blend of  high-flying action, witty humor and dramatic depth. Grosing $495 million in worldwide box-office receipts, the film was nominated for two Oscars: Best animated feature and Best Original Score.

However, the appeal of the film, written and directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, was gradual. Even though it was a critics’ favorite and No. 1 at the box office in its opening weekend, “It actually underperformed according to studio expectations,” DeBlois says.

Amazing Legs

“But it had amazing legs. It clung at or near the top of the box office for seven weeks. We were all really proud of the fact that the word of mouth surrounding the movie was bringing audiences to see it, and bit by bit, we ended up surpassing studio expectations.”  The animation’s triumph spawned a TV series, a live stage show, a bevy of merchandise–and loyal fans.

“It’s deeply satisfying to know that the passion we put into the film is reciprocated,” DeBlois adds. “We see so much love coming back to us — fan videos and fan fiction and character drawings — it exists in a bigger way than we ever intended it to be.”

From the beginning, DreamWorks Animation executives viewed Dragon as a potential franchise. Its stellar reception and box-office achievement easily put sequel plans in motion. Since Sanders was turning his attention to directing DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods,” they approached DeBlois about helming How to Train2 on his own, with Sanders taking on an executive producer role.

“I told them, ‘I’m really interested if you’ll entertain the idea of it being a trilogy,’” DeBlois recalls. “‘The first movie can serve as the first act, this’ll be the larger second act and then there must be a third culminating act.’ Thankfully, they bought into that concept.”

“Dean, in Hollywood terms, is the real deal,” says Producer Bonnie Arnold. “He’s a great storyteller. He thinks like a little boy, which is always helpful when you’re making movies about boys and their dragons. He’s creative, but the best news is that he lets the other creative members of the team bring the best things they have to offer to the movie.”

Visual Effects Supervisor David Walvoord agrees: “Working with Dean is amazing. He’s not just the director, but the writer, too. He has a incredibly special relationship with the characters and the world, and he has such a strong vision for what that world should be that it was really inspiring for us and, at the same time, made our job so much easier because he’s really able to articulate what he’s looking for, which helps send us in the right direction.”

Hiccup Coming of Age Story

The first film, based on the children’s books written by British author Cressida Cowell, introduced to audiences the gangly teenage Viking Hiccup, whose world is flipped upside down when he encounters and befriends an injured dragon he names Toothless. According to Arnold, DeBlois viewed How to Train 2 as Hiccup’s coming of age story, “not the ‘further adventures’ of Hiccup and Toothless” as some sequels are prone to do.When Dean pitched his idea for the second film to DreamWorks Animation executives, another crucial element of his pitch was the fact he wanted to age the characters by five years,” she adds. “It just made it a more interesting place to go and was something different that you don’t see in animation, honestly. That was a bold choice on his part and we feel really grateful that DreamWorks supported that idea.”

It was a bit of a challenge on the design front and a trial-and error process for the artists to retain the charm and appeal of each character while at the same time aging them. “We discovered ultimately, with most of the cast, that if we could just retain their overall silhouette and stamp, but increase their size, change their wardrobe, age their face in subtle ways and give them different hairstyles, that seemed to do it,” he says. “Hiccup was maybe the trickiest one just because in aging him, we wanted to make sure that he didn’t become a classic Hollywood hero. He had to retain his gangly quality, because there’s so much of his charm in that, that dorky awkwardness that he possesses.

“We made sure that even though he did get taller, he never quite filled out the way his father, tribal chief Stoick the Vast, had hoped he might in the first movie,” DeBlois continues. “He’s still slight of build but he continues to compensate with his intelligence, wit and advanced thinking.”

Jay Baruchel as Hiccup

Returning as Hiccup is actor Jay Baruchel, who personifies those very qualities, according to DeBlois.  “I can’t think of anyone else who could ever play Hiccup in this way, because the character is Jay, to a large degree,” he says. “He embodies so much of what Hiccup is: A guy who’s quick-witted, intelligent, spry on his feet…there’s an adorable awkward quality to him that he’s very aware of and plays to his advantage.”  And it’s through Baruchel’s ability to convey Hiccup’s emotions that the audience connects with the character, says Arnold.