Dean DeBlois’ dragon-flying sequel How To Train Your Dragon 2 takes a bolder, braver approach than the first in the trilogy - bringing heavier topics to the table that according to DeBlois, “have made some people very nervous.”
Directing on his own for the first time, with usual writer/director partner Chris Sanders taking an executive producer role, he defended his daring ideas on his own, convincing DreamWorks Animation executives that Hiccup and friends should be five years older, and thus take on more mature issues.
“If we were going to do a sequel, we didn’t want to rehash the same issues Hiccup had from the first movie,” DeBlois explains. “By starting five years on, we could have a 20 year-old with 20 year-old problems.”
DeBlois’ first hurdle was introducing Hiccup’s estranged mother Valka (bringing Cate Blanchett to the franchise), something that naturally adds great meaning to a young man’s life. He takes it one step further by reuniting Valka with Hiccup’s father Stoick.
“I have a strong opinion that animation as a medium can speak to a broad audience, I don’t like the stigma it’s just for kids. He (Hiccup) has to define himself against the over-bearing nature of his father, and now his mother. He has to find out who he is - his coming of age, so to speak,” says DeBlois.
The sequel also introduces a much darker villain, Drago Bludvist (played by the formidable Djimon Hounsou), who is known across the lands for his vast army of dragons and his slaying of Vikings. A surprising twist in one battle scene leads a character to his death, forcing Hiccup to defend the village of Berk on his own.
“As a rite of passage, it’s a moving thing what Hiccup goes through. It’s a transition for him - it teaches him what he’s destined to become,” says DeBlois.
The director also took a stance in taking DOP consultant Roger Deakins to the archipelago of Svalbard, Norway’s last stop before the North Pole.
“It’s immensely beautiful, where the human presence is a drop in the ocean. The way the light filters at the northern latitudes is unbelievable. This inspired Valka’s world - that sense of wide open artic landscapes that are epic in scope.” He also slyly adds, “I also realised if you want to visit a location, then write it into your script.”
DeBlois, an animator himself, was thrilled when DreamWorks decided to integrate new animation system Apollo, making it the first film to use the five-years-in-the-making software.
“We knew the artists could work faster, they had increased controls for acting subtlety and they could manipulate characters in real time - almost like a stop motion animator with his puppet. And not to mention the colours are richer, and more vibrant.”
The success from the first film (taking in over $495m in worldwide box-office receipts), plus the lucrative franchise including a TV series, short films, video games and atheatre show now permanently based in Beijing, leaves DeBlois and DreamWorks Animation waiting with bated breath.
“We hope our risks are applauded and not rejected. I think once we see how this film does, it’s going to embolden us or caution us for the third film.” DeBlois is now scripting the final film in the trilogy, tentatively set for release in 2016.