The How to Train Your Dragon franchise is a bit of an anomaly in the DreamWorks Animation filmography. Jeffrey Katzenberg’s company carved out its signature style with Shrek, a sweet yet slightly cynical, self-aware family film with a handful of jokes that only the adults may understand. But 2009’s How to Train Your Dragon was an unabashedly cynicism-free feature that was deeply compassionate in nature and epic in scope. That tone continued in this summer’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, once again under the direction of Dean DeBlois, and the Dragon films have enjoyed not only critical but also commercial success at the box office.
It was announced shortly after the first film’s release that there would be a trilogy of Dragon films, and when I spoke with composer John Powell this summer he said that Katzenberg had recently brought up the prospect of a How to Train Your Dragon 4. I recently spoke with DeBlois in anticipation of the Blu-ray release of Dragon 2, and he took some time to talk about the story for How to Train Your Dragon 3, saying it will be more Tootheless-centric, and he said he thinks he’s talked Katzenberg down from expanding the franchise to a fourth film, though he doesn’t rule out the possibility of spinoffs. Much more after the jump.
With regards to the prospect of expanding the How to Train Your Dragon franchise past a trilogy—which was how it was initially envisioned—to How to Train Your Dragon 4, DeBlois said he thinks the proper franchise will still be ending at Dragon 3 but doesn’t rule out possible spinoffs:
“I think I’ve talked [Jeffrey Katzenberg] down from that (laughs). There may be spinoffs to come, but my involvement and my dedication to completing a story that has a reason for being and a strong sense of integrity and three chapters I think is in place and intact. Everybody seems to be in agreement that we’re moving in the right direction.”
As for the task at hand, DeBlois said How to Train Your Dragon 3 is coming along nicely:
“Just this past Thursday I presented the outline for the film and I’m gonna take a two week break, but after that I’ll be working on the screenplay and hopefully turning the first draft in by the end of the year. So all is going well. It continues to be the third act of this trilogy and we get to see Hiccup’s coming of age come to a completion.”
“I’m also playing with the idea of what happened to the dragons and why they are no more, as suggested by Cressida Cowell’s books. So the whole mystery of where did they go? Did they come back? What transpired? I think it’s all compelling stuff and it’s definitely a story that’s gonna have a lot more Toothless emphasis in it. We continue to get more insight into the dragon world and shed light on their intelligence and all the aspects that we’ve been slowly cooking over the last two films.”
DreamWorks Animation recently shifted the film’s release date from 2016 to 2017, and I asked DeBlois if that had anything to do with story issues or if it was just a studio decision:
“It’s just that these movies take three years. I think it was a little ambitious to say 2016 (laughs). As is normally the case, they kind of throw darts out into the future and wherever they land they call that a release date until we start talking about it in practical terms, and then it’s like, ‘Uh yeah that’s not enough time.’ (laughs). So knowing that they take three years from this moment, from outlining and writing the screenplay through to the final lighting of it, it’s just a process of building models and doing tests and animating, storyboarding, the whole thing just adds up to about three years.”
During our interview DeBlois told me that Drago (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) was originally going to be briefly introduced in How to Train Your Dragon 2 before becoming the main villain in How to Train Your Dragon 3. The story changed during development and Drago ended up becoming the major antagonistic presence in Dragon 2, so I asked DeBlois what that means for the villain in Dragon 3:
“As I go forward I’m still working on kind of the antagonist story of the whole thing, but there are layers and textures to go to that I think will make for a much more compelling force of antagonism in this third one.”
The June 9, 2017 release date is still very far away so we’ve got a while to wait, but I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how the story of Hiccup and Toothless wraps up. Look for my full interview with DeBlois here on Collider closer to the Blu-ray release of How to Train Your Dragon 2 on November 11th.