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Dragons Rule The Sky In Sequel to 2010 Hit

by Sean Au
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Tuesday Jun 10, 2014
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A still from "How To Train Your Dragon 2"
A still from "How To Train Your Dragon 2"  

In just four years "How To Train Your Dragon" has become an entertainment juggernaut with a TV series and a stage show developed from the hit 2010 film. Having been embraced by critics and audiences (grossing a half-a-billion dollars worldwide), it’s not surprising that its sequel, "How To Train Your Dragon 2," is one of the most anticipated of the summer blockbusters. (It opens nationwide this Friday.)

Director Dean DeBlois, who co-directed the original movie, takes full reign of the sequel. He also successfully lobbied DreamWorks, the studio behind the first film, to commit to a third film.

"How To Train Your Dragon" introduced audiences to the main characters of the Viking community of Berk and the adventurous ways of teenager Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel ("She’s Out of My League," "This Is The End"). Instead of fearing the attacks from dragons causing mayhem and destruction, he learned to co-exist with the beasts. The sequel grows this relationship further. The people of Berk have become dragon riders who hunt with the dragons, even engaging with them in dragon races, in which Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid, voiced by America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty," "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") excels.


A still from "How To Train Your Dragon 2"  

But Hiccup and his dragon mate Toothless are more interested in exploring the world, and mapping new territories. On one of his adventures that he reunites his mother Valka, voiced by recent Oscar winner Cate Blanchett with her with his father Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler ("300," "Machine Gun Preacher"), which makes for a welcome twist to the single parent household often seen in similar adventure movies. As a family, they have to defeat the dragon tyrant Drago Bludvist, voiced by Djimon Hounsou, ("Amistad," "Blood Diamond").

Five years in the making, this is also the first film that DreamWorks Animation fully employs the Apollo technology that the animation giant has developed. In a nutshell, instead of fiddling with numbers and graphs, and waiting for the computer to render the pictures, animators are able to manipulate details and make small adjustments to refine features of the characters in real time. This adds efficiency to the process and allows the filmmakers to focus more on the story at hand. Early reviews are very encouraging.

Variety’s Peter Debruge claims that "Dragon 2" is "DreamWorks Animation’s strongest sequel yet -- one that breathes fresh fire into the franchise, instead of merely rehashing the original... and more emotionally satisfying than so many of its live-action counterparts, ’Dragon’ delivers." Forbes’ Scott Mendelson calls the film "a textbook example of how to do a world-building sequel just right. It expands the world established in the first film, with new characters, new worlds to explore, and new mythological tidbits, but nonetheless concentrates on telling a complete story centered on its main characters."

EDGE brought the film’s Director Dean DeBlois, as well as lead actors Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera down to earth for an earthy chat.


Dean DeBlois and Jay Baruchel  (Source:Associated Press)

New toy in story-telling

EDGE: How has ’Apollo’ changed the ways animation filmmakers tell stories?

Dean DeBlois: For me, it means that we can dream bigger. We can have much more scope in the movie. We can have much more subtle performance in the characters themselves because all of our characters now have so much more going on under the skin and we can have so many more characters on the screen at the same time. So really, it allows the talents of the animators to come through in a bigger and grander way. It doesn’t slow them down by having to wait for renders.

EDGE: How about the more emotional scenes?

Dean DeBlois: The emotional scenes are much more pure and sincere now because the animators are able to bring a lot more subtlety to the actual facial performances. It just means it’s more convincing and believable.

EDGE: How far away have you taken the characters away from the series of books?

Dean DeBlois: Cressida Cowell’s book series follows the adventures of a ten-year old Viking and his talking sidekick of a dragon who’s about the size of a small dog. That’s Toothless. So we had to re-imagine a little bit for the big fantasy adventure scale that the studio wanted. That’s why Toothless is also re-invented as a different dragon in the series, and Hiccup is an older character, both in the first installment, and in the sequel, that’s the second part of the trilogy, when you get to meet Hiccup as a twenty-year-old. Narratively, it has departed from the books; still, it’s in the same spirit, still about kind of the underdog hero, a slighter built Viking in a big brawny world, learning to trust his instincts, be himself and transform the world.


America Ferrera and Jay Baruchel at the Cannes Film Festival, May 2014  (Source:Associated Press)

Keeping it real

EDGE: For America and Jay, you’re better known for your comedic roles. What do you see are the qualities that you bring to this movie?

Jay Baruchel: That’s for Dean to answer (laughs) but you know, it’s all acting. It’s all the same thing. Whether you’re trying to be funny or serious or whatever; it’s a cartoon or live action. It’s all the truth -- the truth of intention. Trying to keep it real. The most important thing is trying to serve the story. If you’ve done that, and there are moments of daylight to find jokes or something that are not on the page, then you go for it, but not if they step on the story. So the story comes first. It’s the same gig no matter what.

America Ferrera: I’ve had very little limited voice acting experience before I jumped into ’Dragon 1’ and I felt that I was learning as we went. It’s exciting and it’s fun. My favorite sessions are those I got to record with Jay. Every now and then, we get to come in and do joint sessions. It makes it easier for me to have something to play opposite, but I’m always amazed at how I’m giving something in the room and at the end of the day to see how it matches up with what the other characters are doing. It comes down to trust. It’s really magical. To know that Dean has the whole picture in his mind. We’re given pieces of this puzzle that he has to put together. I’ve learned to trust that Dean’s got this and I’ll give him what he asks for.


Cate Blanchett at the Cannes Film Festival, May 2014  (Source:Associated Press)

Behind the dragon’s tale

EDGE: What does this story of the boy and his dragon mean to you?

Jay Baruchel: Many things, but not the least of which is this great message to any kid that’s sort of born or wired differently than the family they’re born into or the neighborhood they’re born into, this movie tells us that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. You can sort of find your place in any world.

America Ferrera: I just think imagination is so powerful. To be able to share a story that feels like in a pretend world relates to our world in so many ways. It’s a gift to adult and kid viewers because they see in this film real stakes and real relationships that they relate to their own lives. It’s entertaining, it’s fun, it’s adventurous but it really connects on a deep level.


A still from "How To Train Your Dragon 2"  

What’s next?

EDGE: What can you tell us about the third movie in the trilogy due in 2016?

Dean DeBlois: Not a lot yet because I’m just beginning the writing process, but it was designed to be a trilogy so I’ve an idea of what the outline is. We’ll see Hiccup’s complete coming of age, becoming this wise Viking chief of Berk but in doing so, lose dragons forever. So this movie will culminate at the point which Cressida Cowell’s books begin, which is Hiccup, as an adult looking back at the time when there were dragons. How they go away, why they go away, that leads to the event that has yet to be unveiled, promises to be very powerful and emotional, hopefully very satisfying.

"How to Train Your Dragon 2" opens in theatres June 13.


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