SALT LAKE CITY — After multiple release-date pushbacks due to DreamWorks Animation's scaled-back production schedule, writer and director Dean DeBlois is finally bringing his three-part adaptation of Cressida Cowell’s “How to Train Your Dragon” to a close, when the finale, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” hits theaters nationwide Feb. 22.
“We see Hiccup, who started as a nuisance-runt, finally transitioning into the wise chief that he was destined to be,” DeBlois said in a recent phone interview with the Deseret News. “In the process, we complete the story and explain what happened to dragons and why they aren’t here anymore.”
While the first two “How to Train Your Dragon” films focused on Hiccup’s personal story, “Hidden World” gives Toothless, Hiccup’s pet Night Fury, a storyline of his own. As Hiccup searches for the Hidden World — a mythological island where dragons were said to have originated — Toothless elopes with a white-scaled Light Fury who gradually reawakens his domesticated (or perhaps, “trained”) wild side. Hiccup, the dragons and the trilogy's familiar cast of characters battle against a new villain, Grimmel, whose effortlessly calculated dragon hunt urges the plot forward.
“I hope that audiences take away a really satisfying conclusion to the story and a loving send-off to the world and to the characters that has comedy and discovery and wonder — and especially emotion,” DeBlois continued. “I hope that we make them cry.”
As fans of the first two films remember, one of “How to Train Your Dragon's” standout features is its animation style. “Hidden World” is no different. New technology, DeBlois said, allowed his team to create the movie’s utopia where dragons go to hide — the Hidden World.
“The Hidden World is a very complex environment because we actually built it,” DeBlois explained. “We didn't just rely on matte paintings. We could put the camera anywhere in that space and shoot it from a myriad of angles. We populated it with all sorts of dragons, which were very complex in and of themselves. And it was all lit with unconventional light sources to give it that magical feel, whether it was bioluminescence or light being channeled from the magma.
“It was all very complex imagery to put on the screen,” he continued. “In 2018, it was finally something that was a possibility, whereas before we would have had to scale back and cheat our way around it.”
While new technologies allowed the team to improve its design, "Hidden World" stayed true to the franchise’s original aesthetic. DeBlois said they wanted to "create a sense of credibility" in the Hidden World, making it operate on principles of real-world physics.
“And we wanted the stakes to be real,” he added. “This is a world in which cartoony physics don't apply. If a character falls from a great height, they won’t bounce. If they get in the way of dragon fire, they’re not going to walk away with scorched hair — they'll get seriously burned. It all goes to support this idea that we're telling a story about a moment in time where dragons roamed our earth.”
However, the road from book to film trilogy was far from straightforward. DeBlois’ creativity, combined with the efforts of DreamWorks' talented film and animation team, allowed for the creation of a franchise that was only loosely based on the original book.
Although marketed to children, DeBlois said the film's genuine comedy, beautiful shots, comedic animation and universally applicable storyline can be understood by any audience.
“The truth is, we — we the people who make the movie — we never put it through a filter of a ‘kids movie,’” he said. “We try to make the movie we want to see in the medium of animation, and hopefully, there’s a mature quality that entertains any adult going to see the film as much as a young audience."