Dean DeBlois has been the guiding force on some of cinema’s best loved animations. He was co-head of story on Disney’s Mulan, the director and co-writer on Lilo & Stitch, and the director on all of the How to Train Your Dragon movies. DeBlois brings the franchise to a close with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.
Screen Rant: You did it. You brought a tear to my eye in a press screening. I was crying like a little baby.
Dean DeBlois: Thank you, good.
Screen Rant: But I do have to ask, this is something you’ve been working on for a very long time, and you’re doing something rare in Hollywood, where you actually got to write and direct a full-on trilogy for x amount of years. Is this the way you always envisioned it ending?
Dean DeBlois: Yes. When we decided that we were going to do a sequel, I pitched the idea of a trilogy. And I wanted to take it all the way to the disappearance of dragons, concurrent with Hiccup becoming the wise selfless chief, and linking those two ideas. So, it’s very satisfying to me that that idea wasn’t compromised. That we were able to ultimately break apart our star couple of Hiccup and Toothless and have it be a conscious decision that they make.
Screen Rant: Now, with any kind of trilogy, there’s a lot of characters involved. And sometimes, in certain films, you don’t get to shine all those characters at once. But what characters, maybe that were in the background in the other two films, get to stand out in this one?
Dean DeBlois: Well, you know, Toothless really gets a lot of screen time. Like his story really evolves. And it actually, because we have limited time in animated movies, if you think of it’s like over a million dollars a minute, we have to shift the focus. And so, by giving Toothless his own kind of love story, his own call of the wild, it actually takes away from the screen time that we might have allotted to some of our secondary cast. And it’s always a balance, because people say, “Oh, I wish I had more of Ruffnut and Tuffnut. Or the twins. Or Snotlout.” Yes, but then it would take away from this particular angle of the story. So, I think Toothless is the one that really shines in this particular one.
Screen Rant: I mean, there’s a lot of kids that grew up watching How to Train Your Dragon and now they’re young adults. What do you want them to take away from not only just this film, but the trilogy as a whole?
Dean DeBlois: Well, I hope it feels like uncompromised wonder and something that feels nostalgic. Like I would love for this movie trilogy to inspire future storytellers and filmmakers the way, you know, the Star Wars films inspired me. I would love to be part of that cycle. And if people grow up with the characters, and they feel ownership, and then it was resolved in a satisfying way, then it might just have that timeless quality. And that’s all we can really hope for.
Screen Rant: Last week, it was announced that Disney streaming is doing a live-action Lilo & Stitch and obviously you were involved with that as well. Do you have any advice for the filmmakers doing that? And are you involved in the live-action version of that as well?
Dean DeBlois: I’m not involved, nor is Chris Sanders. It’s a peculiar one to me because it’s such a singular voice. We really wanted to bring Chris Sanders’s idea for the story book to the screen and it requires a specific sensibility. So, I’m not quite sure what to advise. I think it could be tricky, you know, really having those character voices feel authentic.
Screen Rant: Last question. With How to Train Your Dragon, from the first one to this one, obviously technology has changed. Is there anything– because I went down to the CG room, is there anything that you had to hold back on to make it seem seamless? Or was it like, “You know? Let’s just use all the technology we have?”
Dean DeBlois: We haven’t consciously tried to hold back. We’ve proudly embraced the evolving technology. From 2008, when I had joined the studio to now. The downside is that if you’ll watch them back to back, it’ll start to feel like the first movie is looking a little dated [LAUGHS], a little archaic. But we never abandoned our sense of design and Roger Deakins influence on the look and the lighting. So, our caricature, our world has evolved. It’s become more refined and more subtle. But I think the spirit’s still there on screen and hopefully they work well together.