'How To Train Your Dragon' Director Dean DeBlois Reveals How 'The Hidden World' Will Explain Why "Dragons Are No More" [Interview]

The How To Train Your Dragon trilogy is coming to an end, and it will probably make you cry. No, not over Hiccup's glorious new beard (though that is worth shedding a few awestruck tears over), but over the bold and life-affirming story of friendship between a boy and his dragon that director Dean DeBlois has been building for the past decade.

We spoke to DeBlois about How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, and how the third and final film of the DreamWorks franchise will explain why "dragons are no more." And yes, we did ask about Hiccup's beard.

I wanted to start with the prevailing question on everyone's lips: What's up with Hiccup's beard?

[Laughs] Well, that's the first time I've been asked that question so far, so it's surprising because the main narrative of the story does not involve Hiccup with a beard. I'll only say even though the main narrative of the story takes place a year after the events of [How to Train Your Dragon 2], we do play with timelines a bit. So the beard is a move to that older Hiccup at some point in the story. I don't want to get into spoilers...

So could we say it's an epilogue that takes place however many years in the future?

[Laughs] That's too specific! Like I said, it kind of bounces around in timelines. So we go backward, then go forward, and there's sort of an allusion to the wise and selfless Viking leader that Hiccup becomes at the end of the trilogy.

Does that epilogue have something to do with How to Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell's remarks in an interview a few years back, saying there will be "an explanation as to why dragons are no more"?

Yes. In fact, when Cressida visited Dreamworks back in 2010, while we were just finishing up How to Train Your Dragon, she told me that she was working on the last installment of her book series, one that would explain what happened to dragons. And I just found that idea very exciting because it was immediately kind of gripping and emotional. And I love the idea that she would explain a period of time that could have existed if we are no longer surrounded by dragons — that's just a wonderful mystery to explore.

So I was inspired by that, I was also inspired by the first words of her very first book, which was Hiccup as an adult reflecting back. The line is, "There were dragons, when I was a boy." There was something really wonderful and bittersweet [about] a specific era of time that covers a storyline like Hiccup and Toothless, where you have two disparate characters who are brought together by extraordinary circumstance. And even though they may separate in the end, there's this wonderful life-affirming quality to it, because they will never be the same again.

It sounds like How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World will be the most bittersweet of the series.

Yes, intentionally so. My favorite types of movies are those that kind of have that somewhat disarming and very poignant emotional place to go to, that take you along with them. There are some tough decisions to make that hopefully the audience shares with the main characters. The intent is to have the audience share the entire spectrum — it's fun and it's adventurous, and there are moments of fright and peril, but I think the wonder and the emotion are the most important moments. I hope to bring our audience to tears.

When was it decided that the third film would be the last one?

After the success of the first movie and its box office run, I was approached to come up with ideas for a sequel. And I'm generally allergic to sequels, because they oiften feel like they lack a purpose other than continuing a franchise and making more money. So I pitched back an idea that we should do a trilogy, three definitive acts of one larger story that tells Hiccup's tale from clumsy runt who's always in everyone's way to the selfless chief he's destined to be, featuring rites of passage along the way. The studio liked that idea, so it gave the trilogy kind of an integrity from the start. It wouldn't keep going on and on until people lost interest in the characters, it would have a reason for being.

How to Train Your Dragon 3 TrailerHiccup and Toothless's "boy and his dragon" friendship has formed the backbone of this series, and it was continually tested throughout the movies — like in the second How to Train Your Dragon, when the Alpha takes control of Toothless, for example, and he accidentally kills Stoic. Will they be tested again in The Hidden World?

Yes, but in a completely different way. The narrative of this story is one of the courage to face the unknown and to achieve the wisdom of learning to let go, learning to realize that you're holding someone back. The Light Fury in our story is an agent of change. She comes into the story in innocence, but she is actually forcing Hiccup to confront his own insecurities, realizing that, or having the conviction that, he is incapable and kind of worthless without Toothless. And should this Light Fury lead Toothless away — really what she represents is kind of Call of the Wild — where does that leave Hiccup? It's an engine of growth, and it does test the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, their loyalty to one another, and also their love for one another and how that manifests in terms of being possessive versus having the more enlightened and selfless path of setting someone free.

So I'm assuming at this point, they won't have their literally codependent relationship anymore, in which Toothless could only fly through Hiccup's technology?

There's a development within the story where Hiccup realizes that he has to enable this relationship between Toothless and the Light Fury in order to continue with their own problems and the quest they've embarked on. So in order to do so, he fashions a method by which Toothless can fly independently that allows him to pursue the Light Fury without the involvement of a human being. She is very wild and distrusting of humans, for good reason. So Hiccup realizes that in order to seal this deal [chuckles] he has to let Toothless take over on his own.

What else can you tell us about the Light Fury?

The Light Fury is a variation of Toothless' species, the Night Fury. She is not the last of her kind, unlike Toothless. And her story is one that's a bit mysterious. We intentionally try to keep her wild and elusive, to kind of represent something that is pure dragon, that hasn't been tainted by human beings by domestication. She has a unique ability of her own: she's able to cloak. She blasts a fireball, she flies through it, and by heating up her skin and her scales they turn mirror-like, reflecting their environment. So she effectively disappears against the sky or disappears against foliage.

You reference Call of The Wild in the themes of this movie. Were there any other themes that the Hidden World has — maybe along the lines of the political themes running throughout the series like colonization, or discrimination against ostracized populations?

What I love about Hiccup is he has this idealistic, if not someone naïve notion, that co-existence is possible. It's wonderful that he's managed to convince all his fellow Vikings that the dragons are not their enemy, that they're largely misunderstood, and that they can all befriend one another and live together. It's just the larger world isn't going to accept that. The larger world still sees dragons as enemies and villains that must be snuffed out.

So we have introduced into this story a new villain played by F. Murray Abraham, who goes by the name of Grimmel the Grisly. And his claim to fame is that he's the big prize hunter who wiped out Night Furies. And they were considered the most dangerous and most feared, and he did the world a service in his mind by doing away with them. His attitude is the only good dragon is a dead dragon, and that they're vermin that should be eradicated. He's a very intolerant character. And knowing what we know about dragons, it makes him seem especially rigid and unwilling to change. The ugliness of intolerance is brought to life by him.

We know that Roger Deakins consulted on the cinematography for the first two films. Does Deakins consult with this sequel's cinematography as well?

Yes, Roger Deakins is back and working with us as we speak. It's like a master class every time we get to sit down with him. His wealth of experience and degree of subtlety and refined taste when it comes to use of light and composition inspires our lighting team and our camera team to come up with bold, and interesting, and memorable takes on each and every scene.

And did you find that the process working with him over the past 10 years has changed?

It actually has changed over the past 10 years because as technology continues to improve, it also becomes much more artist-friendly. So the idea of being able to iterate has been vastly improved. Roger will sit down with one of our lighting artists and actually try out different ideas and get immediate results, which is not something we were able to do 5, 7, 10 years ago.