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New details about Dreamworks Animation’s upcoming How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World were revealed by writer-director Dean DeBlois Thursday at the Annecy International Animation Festival in Annecy, France.
In advance of the festival, he talked with The Hollywood Reporter about finishing the final chapter in the beloved film series, which is slated for release on March 1, 2019.
“The story is another rite of passage,” DeBlois told THR. “Hiccup has to make decisions on his own. He’s being tested as a rookie chief. He needs to make wise decisions. But his source of confidence, Toothless, is distracted by an elusive female variation of his species — a Light Fury who has a strong dislike for humans.”
He continued: “As she attempts to lure Toothless back into the wild, it tests Hiccup’s abilities as a chief and forces him to confront a deep insecurity within himself, which is, is he worthy on his own?”
Meanwhile, the Viking village of Berk is now populated by both humans and dragons, and Hiccup must defend them from a new threat.
At Annecy, DeBlois showed the recently released trailer and four new clips.
In an emotive clip very reminiscent of the “Forbidden Friendship” scene in the first How to Train Your Dragon (during which Hiccup and Toothless become acquainted through subtle gestures and without dialogue), “First Date” is a wordless scene beside a moonlit lake during which Toothless gets acquainted with his love interest, the Light Fury. Hiccup is hiding nearby, trying to give Toothless the confidence to get to know her.
“I’m a fan of sequences that can be driven by music and the absence of dialogue,” DeBlois said. “Toothless is the last of his kind and has been living with humans for a while, so it seemed the perfect setup for a bumbling first date with the Light Fury, who is more in tune with her wild nature. It’s also the kind of sequence we love in animation because it relies on pantomime.
“We definitely wanted to reference the ‘Forbidden Friendship’ scene from the first film,” he admitted, “partly because it is [again] a communion between two characters and also because it goes back to the first installment of the trilogy, and I love giving it a sense of unity.”
But as the scene concludes, the Light Fury takes to the sky. Toothless, who is unable to fly without Hiccup controlling his prostetic tail, is unable to follow.
The “First Date” clips seems to lead to “Automatic Tail,” during which Hiccup builds an automatic tail, allowing Toothless to independently fly — and get to know the Light Fury. Hiccup places the tail on Toothless, who takes to the sky as Hiccup watches from the ground. “Hiccup clearly has mixed emotions as Toothless flies away with his new tail,” DeBlois said.
In this energy-filled opening sequence, the gang is back with a “sloppy” attempt to rescue some trapped dragons. “We wanted to open the movie with a little bit of mystery and a lot of fun, something that sets up the stakes in their world and reintroduces the characters,” DeBlois said.
He noted that this film introduces some dragons. That includes Hob Gobbler — which he likened to a beach ball and described as a “little round dragon that’s sort of a cross between a bull frog and a French bulldog” — and Crimson Goregutter, “a stately old grump of a dragon … very protective.”
This scene, exactly as it sounds, introduces “one of the problems in the story” — an overcrowded Vking village of humans and dragons. “In order to maintain their way of life, they need a better plan. Their home island can no longer sustain and protect them,” DeBlois explained, adding that the scene is also “a fun way to meet other ancillary characters.”
While Grimmel doesn’t appear in these clips, DeBlois described his new villian, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, as “a capable, experienced dragon hunter and the man responsible for having killed all the Night Furies except for Toothless. He’s tall and slender, agile and graceful, cunning and barbaric. And he believes dragons do not belong in his world.” The film also introduces Death Grippers, “vicious trained dragons” controlled by Grimmel.
In discussing his new villain, DeBlois commented that the plot also has an underlying theme of tolerlance.
Based on Cressida Cowell’s book series, the film trilogy began with 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, which DeBlois co-directed with Chris Sanders. This and the 2014 sequel, written and directed by DeBlois, were Oscar nominated.
“When I was asked to come up with ideas for a sequel [to the 2010 original], I had the idea of doing a trilogy so we could have three acts of one coming-of-age story for Hiccup,” DeBlois said, adding that “even though the narrative is different from the books, the spirt remains the same.”
At DWA, there are many returning artists and animators who worked on the previous two films. John Powell is again composing the score. Bonnie Arnold returns as producer, this time alongside Brad Lewis.
Also noteworthy is veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins, who won an Oscar earlier this year for Blade Runner 2049, returning as cinematography consultant.
“I imagine it’s gong to be emotional when we finish the film,” said DeBlois, who has now worked with these characters for a decade. “I’m very proud of the films. I feel lucky that I had a chance to be part of a trilogy that maintains its integrity. It’s been amazing to spend time with the characters.”
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