The acclaimed How to Train Your Dragon film franchise is coming to an end with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third and final installment in the visually astonishing and thematically resonant animated series.
Written and directed by Dean DeBlois (who had the same duties on the second film while co-directing and co-writing the first), the action-filled yet poignant new adventure finds Hiccup (voiced again by Jay Baruchel) now the ruler of Berk and trying to find a way for his kingdom of humans and dragons to exist on their own terms. But new enemies and discoveries eventually lead Hiccup and his beloved dragon Toothless to realize that there is only one decision they can make to save both their species.
“It was towards the end of the first movie, when (co-director) Chris Sanders and I were rushing to the finish line, not thinking about a trilogy or even a sequel at that point,” says DeBlois in our video interview when asked if he even envisioned the movies as a trilogy back at the beginning.
“We had a conversation with Cressida Cowell, the author of the books, and she was working on the last installment of her series, and it was going to explain what happened to dragons and why they are no more,” he continues. “I thought, wow, that’s fascinating, because it’s immediately emotional and gripping and mysterious. So when asked to come up with an idea for a sequel, I pitched the idea of a trilogy — let’s do three acts, one story.”
Strangely, the most profound themes presented in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World — the idea of growing up, moving on, and saying goodbye to those you love — mirrored the feelings of the crew that worked on the series, if not necessarily at the same time.
“It’s only happening kind of retrospectively now,” says DeBlois. “We’re realizing that the character saying goodbye to one another within the story is kind of true to life because we’re saying goodbye to this franchise but we’re saying goodbye to one another. It’s a team that was assembled over the course of these 10 years and we’ve come to rely upon one another and treat each other like family. So with the end of Dragons comes the end of our collaboration in this form.”
How to Train Your Dragon, the complete trilogy, may well end up being considered among the best animated film series of all time, and we asked DeBlois what he hopes viewers and families take away from the movies as they watch them in years to come.
“I hope they find something timeless in them,” he concludes. “Because dragons as a concept, there’s an element of wish fulfillment — they’ve been around a long time, they’re part of so many cultures around the world, and so just the idea of a mythical beast that you could bond with, that could be your protector and best friend, that you could fly on the back of and feel that freedom…I love that we were able to bring dragons to the screen in a way that made them feel like they were part of the animal kingdom that we know, and the world that we know.”
How to Train Your Dragons: The Hidden World is out this Friday (February 22).
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye