Now that the first trailer for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World has made its debut and fans of the franchise have gotten a glimpse into what the final chapter of this trilogy could be, they undoubtedly want to know more. Over the past decade, we’ve watched Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) grow from an adolescent Viking to a man, and we’ve rooted for him and fallen in love with his Night Fury dragon Toothless, as they’ve had to face challenges and overcome their fears by finding the courage within, on their path to discovering their true destinies.
To get some further hints about what fans expect from this third film, due out in theaters on March 1, 2019, Collider got on the phone with writer/director Dean DeBlois to talk about the rare opportunity of getting to helm an animated trilogy, what he’s most excited about with How to Train Your Dragon 3, why this is the final chapter of this story, what dragon courtship looks like, how the Light Fury will affect the bond that Hiccup and Toothless have, who he looks to, in order to gauge just how many tears the movie might have, whether he’s had his own cry yet, over saying goodbye to this world and these characters, his own personal favorite collectibles for the film, and that audiences can expect so much more than they get just a glimpse of in the trailer.
Collider: I’m so excited that this movie is at least close enough to its release date now that we’ve actually gotten to see a trailer.
DEAN DeBLOIS: Yeah, I know. By the time it comes out, it’ll be five years in the making. It’s crazy! It’s been a long road toward making it, but I’m glad that we’re actually getting to put the finishing touches on the trilogy.
How cool is it for you, as a filmmaker and creator, to not only have the tremendous response that you had for the first film, and be able to do a second film, but to now have three films in this franchise and be the one at the helm of them all, and be able to see this story through to its conclusion?
DeBLOIS: It is a rare experience, as Guillermo del Toro told me. It’s pretty fantastic to have the opportunity to see it through, with the integrity that we planned for a trilogy, and not just have it go on, endlessly.
What are you most excited about, with this third film?
DeBLOIS: On one side, the technology improves, every year. It looks better and better, and we get more tools, and we have the ability to realize ambitions that we might not have been able to do, in the past. On this film, in particular, our back end was a bottleneck. That prevented us, in the past, from being able to realize the scope, the scale and the detail, but now we have this lightning-fast ray tracing renderer that allows us to fulfill the promise of all of our front end tools that we had on the second movie. Just how good it’s gonna look is super exciting. Then, on the other side, just being able to tell the third act of one large story and pay off threads that we’ve been setting up in the previous films, and seeing it all through, in a really fun and emotional way is pretty exciting, too.
Is this really the final chapter in this story, at least for these characters? If there is ever a fourth film, would it be with different characters telling a different story, in this world?
DeBLOIS: I’m just excited to jump into something new. I’ve spent a decade of my life with these characters. For me, I love stories where you get two disparate characters that are brought together by extraordinary circumstance, and though they may be destined to part in the end, they’ll never be the same because they’ve had such a profound impact on one another’s lives that it’s forever changed, on both sides, and they’re better characters for it. Those films tend to be rare and really indelible because they touch people, in a way that’s life affirming and true. It’s a unique opportunity to be able to fulfill that and to be able to tell the third act with the intent that we set out with, when we first considered the idea of a sequel to the first film.
Is this always the destiny that you knew Hiccup and Toothless would have, or has it changed and evolved, over the years?
DeBLOIS: The author of the books, Cressida Cowell, who has become a good friend and a really loyal advisor, had visited the studio, when we were making the first film. She told me, at the time, that she was working on the last installment of her 10 or 11 book series, and the grand ambition was to explain what happened to dragons and why they are no more. For me, that was emotional, gripping and exciting, and promised a lot of possibilities and a lot of really profound questions. I loved the idea that we can relate it back to our world. Dragons aren’t among us anymore, so what happened to them? We’ve treated the dragon universe as being one that’s very similar to our own, albeit larger than life and full of whimsy, but the physics are real. Our dragons, unlike the books, don’t talk and there’s a sense of history to it, but I love that, as a challenge. I think that’s really fun. I also was affected by the very first words in her first book, where Hiccup was an older man, reflecting back on a time when there were dragons, and it said, “There were dragons, when I was a boy.” I just found that to be really intriguing. Although the narratives of the book versus the movie are quite different, that ambition was one that was especially compelling to me.
In the trailer, we get to see a little bit of the dragon courtship between Toothless and the Light Fury. So, what does dragon courtship look like?
DeBLOIS: Like most of the behaviors that we put into our dragons, we tried to take cues from the real world. We watched a lot of animal videos and we did a lot of research on the internet. It was especially fun looking into courtship rituals between birds and animals, and we picked the best and funniest of the bunch to use for our dragon courtship rituals. The other side to it is that Toothless is the last of his kind, so he hasn’t grown up with siblings or parents. He doesn’t know the ways of his kind, per se. He’s been living with humans for some time, so he’s a bit corrupted, in that sense, which makes for a fun scenario. The Light Fury is purely wild. She’s elusive, and she’s quite in touch with her dragon self. It makes for a funny dynamic, where you’ve got this bumbling amateur who’s trying to impress, and he’s doing a really terrible job of it, looking to Hiccup for cues and what to do and, of course, Hiccup is full of bad information.
At the same time, how will this Light Fury really affect the bond that Hiccup and Toothless have?
DeBLOIS: She’s been designed, although cute and interesting, in her own way, to actually be the engine of change in the story. The real thrust of the movie has to do with Hiccup’s deeply embedded insecurity that stems all the way back to the first movie, where he was the runt of his Viking tribe. He was always in the way and he seemed completely incapable, and Toothless gave him confidence. He is behind Hiccup’s every achievement, and so Hiccup’s deep insecurity is that he really doesn’t think he can lead and be a capable, worthy person on his own. That’s something that he has to face, in this movie, because ultimately he wants best for Toothless, and yet he’s needy. He’s reluctant to let go of that relationship because he needs him, and that’s really the emotional journey. Something that Hiccup has to have the courage to face is this unknown, which is instrumented by the arrival of the Light Fury, who’s keen on luring Toothless back into the wild, to follow his own destiny. And I think that’s a universal right of passage, if you’re a child or an adult, especially an adult with children. The idea is that you’ve built your life around these people you love, and then at one point, there comes a moment where you have to acknowledge that they have a destiny of their own, and your need to possess and protect is doing them an injustice, in the end.
You’ve said that you’re always a little bit disappointed when someone says, “I didn’t cry when I watched your film.” Since you’ve spent such a long time making this movie, I would imagine that you’re a little too close to be the best judge of whether or not the movie might make someone cry, so will you screen the movies for people to see how many tears it brings? Is there a crying ratio that you’re going for?
DeBLOIS: We do have test screenings, and what we look for is whether the audience is entertained, and are they appropriately on the edge of their seats, when we’re in an exciting moment, and are they moved to tears, when we hope they will be. Everybody has a different response, of course, but what you hope for is that the moments that make you emotional will also make an audience emotional.
Do you have any specific friends or family that you use as a crying gauge?