How to Train Dragon 2: Part 2

“With Hiccup, we’ve seen some of his promise in the first movie realized a bit here,” Baruchel says of his character, “but the obligations of adulthood are starting to pile up. It doesn’t take a math whiz to know that as the son of the chief, he’s next in line, and he struggles with that.” While he may be seeking to find his purpose, he does know where his strengths lay and he has been putting his talents of ingenuity to good use by creating a variety of inspired tools. “Hiccup and Toothless often come across hostile new dragons in these new lands they’ve discovered, and so Hiccup, being the advanced thinker that he is, built himself a tool that harnesses the power of dragon fire,” DeBlois says.

“It’s a sword hilt with a collapsible blade, but inside of it are two cartridges: One contains the saliva of a Monstrous Nightmare, which is a sticky napalm-like fire. The blade comes out pre-coated in that saliva and a rudimentary lighter ignites it. To dragons, that’s a very arresting image. It helps them see Hiccup as a dragon himself because he can produce his own fire. If Hiccup gets surrounded by a bunch of hostile dragons, he uses the back end of the sword, which contains a cartridge of highly flammable Hideous Zippleback gas in it: He sprays a ring around himself and ignites it, creating a flash explosion that gets their attention,” DeBlois says. Adds Baruchel: “It’s his light saber. It’s really, really cool. He’s also constructed my favorite thing in the new movie: This really wicked flying suit that not only keeps him warm and looks cool but is outfitted, on his forearms, with everything he needs on his aerial excursions. He’s got a dagger, which he uses as a tool; extra paper for his expanding map; a pen and a rudimentary compass; and not only can he ride Toothless now, he can also fly side-by-side with him, which is pretty special.”

“Dean DeBlois was instrumental in the design of Hiccup’s outfit,” says P.O.V. “He really wanted Hiccup to have a suit that gave the sense that he had, in five years, perfected his understanding of dragons and had trained himself to behave like one — at least in the art of flying. Hiccup is a little bit of a Leonardo da Vinci in the Middle Ages.” The only other person who has contributed to Hiccup’s map nearly as much as he has is the tough and spunky Astrid, who has become a fellow explorer — and more than just a friend. “Astrid is Hiccup’s girlfriend now,” says America Ferrera, who returns to voice the courageous Viking maiden. “She is Hiccup’s No. 1 defender and champion. She’s a leader in her own right. Their relationship is one of equals. When Hiccup goes off to an adventure, she’s not sitting back hoping that he gets back safely.” “Although Astrid doesn’t think the same way that Hiccup does, she knows him well enough that she’s capable of prodding him into finding an answer he might not have been able to find on his own,” says Tom Owens. “She knows how to get the best out of him.” “I’m so thankful that America came back to play Astrid,” DeBlois says. “She has such a strong, powerful voice and it comes through in the character with this spunky, up-for-anything quality. But also inherently in America’s voice is a sense of reason and self-assuredness that the character of Astrid really represents to the story.”

Astrid is right by Hiccup’s side when he discovers a trapper’s fort in the northern reaches of Norway, which has been blown to bits by what appears to be an enormous ice storm; all that remains are giant splinters of wood lodged in massive spikes of ice. As they fly closer, they encounter a ship and its motley crew, led by a brawny young dragon trapper. He’s got a repetitive name, an over-sized ego and an eye for Toothless and Stormfly. “Eret, son of Eret, who is one of three new characters in DRAGON 2, is a little bit full of himself. He claims to be the finest dragon trapper alive,” says DeBlois, “because he and his team have been successfully trapping them for some time.” “Eret thinks that he knows more about dragons than anybody, but it turns out that he doesn’t have an inkling how deep a connection to dragons can go,” Tom Owens says.

In time, his opinion will change. “There’s more substance to him than Hiccup and Astrid give him credit for when they first meet him,” DeBlois says. “Through their influence, Eret comes around to realizing that dragons aren’t the commodity he has thought them to be; that they are loyal and if you take the time to earn their loyalty, they will do anything for you.” The filmmakers chose Kit Harington, the popular young British actor from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” to bring Eret, son of Eret, to life. “Kit showed up on a short list of possible actors to voice Eret,” says DeBlois. “I knew him from ‘Game of Thrones’ and I can safely say he’s my favorite character on that series. I thought he was perfect for the role.” Adds Arnold: “Eret is supposed to be about 20, the same age as Hiccup. We liked that Kit’s voice was youthful, commanding and charming at the same time.

“‘Game of Thrones’ was just taking off when we met and it was serendipitous that he’s gotten such a following in the years that we’ve been making the movie,” she says. Despite his abilities, Eret doesn’t trap dragons for his own amusement. He works for Drago Bludvist, a vicious megalomaniac without conscience or mercy, who once claimed to be a man of the people, devoted to freeing mankind from the tyranny of dragons. In reality he presents an even bigger danger than Eret, who’s just a middleman: Drago is building a dragon army. “Drago Bludvist is a man whose reputation is well known across lands but for all the wrong reasons,” says Gerard Butler. “He’s killed many Vikings. He puts the fear of God into Stoick. He knows from past experience what Drago is capable of.” Adds Owens: “Drago really doesn’t like dragons, but he’s a little bit like Hiccup in that he’s figured out how to work with them — only in a negative way. He’s like a dog trainer who trains attack dogs: He can make dragons bend to his will through fear and control.”

To play the fierce character, the filmmakers turned to Academy Award- nominated actor Djimon Hounsou, a man who is known for portraying intense and often formidable roles to full effect. “What a great, powerful voice he has,” says Owens. “I watched Djimon record once. When he warmed up, he made all these loud, primal noises to get himself in the mood. He really took it to another level. When he recorded, he looked furious and got really sweaty from his exertion. It was very intense and so much fun to watch.”

Standing in the way of Drago’s quest to round up herds of dragons is a mysterious dragon rider who consistently rescues them from Eret’s traps and hides them deep in the Arctic. As Hiccup searches for answers and gets deeper into the mystery, it’s not long before he and Toothless come face-to-face with the dragon rider, who turns out to be someone Hiccup thought he would never meet: his mother. Taken by a dragon when Hiccup was just a baby, she’s been missing for 20 years and presumed dead by the villagers of Berk. “It was never stated in the first movie that Hiccup’s mother was actually dead; it was just implied,” says Owens. “That gave us the open door to say, well, what if she wasn’t dead?”

In HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, she’s far from it. Valka is a dragon-whisperer who is accomplished in the ways of dragons and knows secrets about them that Hiccup hasn’t even discovered yet. Residing in Dragon Mountain, an epic ice formation with an amazing tropical oasis microclimate nestled inside in its core, “She’s been living like Dian Fossey with thousands of dragons all this time, learning their ways and becoming their fierce protector,” DeBlois says. It’s a big moment in the film when Valka reveals to Hiccup the place she calls home. “Right from the beginning, Dean DeBlois had a strong vision of what the Dragon Oasis was all about,” says Head of Layout Gil Zimmerman.

“We knew it would be this surprising place where plant life could live in an arctic region that was big enough to support a whole bunch of dragons. “From a cinematic standpoint we had to figure out how to reveal it to the audience, because it’s a hugely impactful story point and we really wanted this visually stunning way to introduce it,” he continues. “So we went old-school: there’s an old adage that if you’re going go into a big, wide-open space, you start off in a very tight, confined space.” In the movie, as Valka introduces Hiccup to her world, she leads him through a dark, confined tunnel. As they approach the oasis, the first inkling the audience gets of the grandeur is a tight shot on Hiccup’s stunned face. “Then it’s revealed to the audience how spectacular it is,” Zimmerman says. “It’s breathtaking, right? For us in lighting it was also the opportunity to convey that,” says Head of Lighting Pablo Valle. “You have to feel that moment’s sense of awe, where the world opens up through Hiccup’s eyes — he’s seeing this and not believing what he’s seeing because it’s so vast and so beautiful. It was important for us to carry that idea.

“There are two things going on in this scene, each of which was fun to play with,” Valle continues. “Mother and child reconnecting after so many years on one level, and Hiccup’s awareness that the world is much bigger than he ever imagined it to be on another.” In this improbably immense space, tropical ferns, free-flowing waterfalls and bubbling hot springs abound while thousands of dragons permeate the space. “It was one of two seminal moments from the script — the other being the epic battle sequence — that we knew we needed to create something that was extra-special,” Zimmerman adds.

The questions Hiccup has for his mother! Meeting her is like finding an elusive, missing piece to a puzzle as he soon realizes how similar he is to Valka. “Hiccup knows that he’s not a carbon copy of his father and feels a little uncomfortable knowing that there’s this other part of his soul that pines for something more, that is most comfortable when he’s out there with his dragon, searching for a purpose,” DeBlois says. “So meeting his mother and knowing that she has this great purpose to her life is deeply meaningful for Hiccup, because he feels, in that moment, that he’s found the missing half of his soul. He finally knows who he is.”

The only challenge is that Valka and Hiccup have differing philosophies about human interaction with dragons. Valka doesn’t believe co-existence is possible because “she’s seen too much of the evil ways of humans,” according to DeBlois. She thinks the only way to keep dragons safe is to hide them from humans. Hiccup, on the other hand, knows co-existence is possible not only because he has experienced it first-hand but also because he knows he can change minds and bring peace. That becomes the issue that they have to resolve, and ultimately it is Valka’s arc in the story. From the moment he conceived Valka as a character, DeBlois knew whom he wanted for the part: Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett.

“I wrote the character with Cate in mind, not knowing whether she’d be interested at all,” DeBlois says. “I just thought she was a perfect model. She has played characters in the past that have such a fiery strength and command to them. “And then, when we were at the Academy Awards the year we were nominated for ‘Dragon,’ I spotted Cate mixing with people before the ceremony. I walked over and introduced myself. I told her, “I wrote a part for you in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, whether or not you’re interested,” DeBlois laughs. “She wanted to know more on the spot. So I told her a little bit about the character. She said, ‘Well, listen. My boys are huge fans of the first movie and we watch it a lot at our home and I’m not doing anything at the moment. Please send me the script.’” “We were all very excited to have her on board,” says Owens. “She’s a powerhouse actress and has such emotional depth in her speaking voice.”

There’s an inevitable moment in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 when Stoick and Valka are reunited after two decades. To fully appreciate the significance of the occasion, the filmmakers set out to make the scene a poignant one. After all, it isn’t every day one encounters a loved one who has been presumed dead for 20 years. “The scene where Stoick sees Valka for the first time is virtually unchanged from the first script,” DeBlois says. “It has remained very pure: We wanted Stoick to be wordless — to be struck as though he’s seeing a ghost — when he runs into her. Valka, meanwhile, has all this defensive babble to get out of the way because she knows that she made the wrong decision by not returning to her family and she’s trying to justify it but she’s just making herself fall apart. The whole time he’s steadily approaching as though he can’t believe what he’s seeing. It ends in this beautiful single phrase from Stoick and a kiss and we let the audience know that all’s been forgotten and forgiven as far as he’s concerned. I love the idea we suggest — that Valka was Stoick’s only love and that he never had any other interest.”

“Stoick had resigned himself to life without Valka, and then suddenly, she’s there,” says Butler. “For him, it’s a change at something that he never thought would be possible anymore, to have his wife back, to have a mother for Hiccup and to be a family again. It’s romantic, exhilarating and heartbreaking. He’s a young man all over again, and he’s so happy.” For Hiccup, too, seeing his parents together for the first time is momentous. In both of them he sees fiery, powerful, headstrong personalities — and finds his identity in understanding both of them. “So many animated films take for granted that there’s a parent — or maybe both parents — missing,” DeBlois says. “We saw this as an opportunity to bring together a family that had been seemingly torn apart forever and to really feel that Hiccup’s life had become complete before thrusting him into a new chapter of his life.”

“I’ve never seen animated characters seem so complex and deep and have such an emotional reconnection,” offers America Ferrera. “You get to see Hiccup and his parents be a family at last. You get to see what could have been, had his mother and father not been torn apart.” Adding to the emotion of their reunion is Academy Award-nominated composer John Powell’s sweeping score and a song he and Icelandic folk singer Jónsi wrote for Stoick and Valka, one of three pieces on which the musicians collaborated. “Dean wanted something that sounded like an old folk song that they could sing together,” Powell says, “a melody that in the story had been their courting song long ago. So Jónsi and I sat down and started writing melodies and the arrangement. The tune became the theme music that represents Stoick and Valka’s relationship in the film.” Adds Jónsi: “John and I both worked on DRAGON but this was the first time we collaborated on music together. Even though our styles are so different, I learned a lot from him and I’m really happy with this song and the result of all our work.” As the menace of Drago and his army of dragons continue to loom, the timing of the family reunion couldn’t be better. It’s an opportunity for Stoick, Hiccup and Valka to pull strength from their family unity and, along with their loyal friends, to band together to fight the looming threat…and it’s a big one.

Those loyal friends are also the comic relief of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 — particularly Ruffnut, who develops a crush on Eret, son of Eret, while simultaneously fending off two suitors of her own: Snotlout and Fishlegs. “Kristen Wiig, who plays Ruffnut, does it so well,” DeBlois says of her constant rejection of the boys and her slavish fawning over Eret. “She’s the last of Berk’s scarce and scary single ladies but she has no interest in either of them. We have some very strong female characters in Astrid and Valka. We thought there was room to have one that was completely shallow and vapid as well,” he chuckles. “We made Ruffnut as ridiculously shallow as possible. She’s willing to throw everything she has at Eret to try to get his attention, just as Snotlout and Fishlegs are dying for hers.” This time around audiences get to see a different side of Jonah Hill: putting romantic charm into his character as Snotlout tries to gain the advantage over Fishlegs for Ruffnut’s affections. But he really hasn’t changed much. “Snotlout is always trying to draw attention to himself, and he is always trying to impress,” says DeBlois.

“Of all the friends, Snotlout is the only one who hasn’t actually grown much in five years, and so it adds to his overcompensating behavior.” “Snotlout strikes me as the type of guy that peaked in high school,” says Tom Owens. “He’s always going to be at that level, mentally speaking. He’s gotten older — he’s got facial hair that he’s really proud of — but he’s still kind of a simple soul at heart.” Christopher Mintz-Plasse is back as Fishlegs, the big, loveable oaf who knows everything there is to know about dragons. “We get to see a more aggressive side to him this time around because of his competition with Snotlout,” Owens adds. Ruffnut’s antagonistic twin is played by T. J. Miller. “T.J. Miller is one of the funniest people on Earth,” DeBlois says. “He gives us all sorts of ad libs that I love to use whenever we can. I just can’t get enough of the banter he has with Kristen as the battling twins — and they’re always at war with each other. It’s just kind of a silly, nonsensical joke. We love to play out the idea that even though they’re forced to work together, they’re always trying to sabotage each other.”