During this year’s WonderCon 2014 in Anaheim, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” director Dean DeBlois and star Jay Baruchel stopped by the CBR Tiki Room to discuss a myriad of topics with CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland, including the current direction of the trilogy, the extraordinary circumstances under which the first “How to Train Your Dragon” was produced, the “Empire Strikes Back” nature of the second film and more.
Plus, Baruchel discusses his love of hockey — specifically, Montreal Canadiens (“The Habs”): the longest continuously operating professional ice hockey team and the only team in the NHL that actually predates the NHL’s founding.
Baruchel on his love of hockey: I don’t have a memory without the Habs. When I was a kid, my dad painted my hamper and my dresser and everything Havs colors. Even when we moved to Ontario, I still had to wear Habs stuff to school every day. I was teased mercilessly. But that’s my family’s only real religion. … Liking sports doesn’t mean you have to be athletic at all! You could be the biggest dork in the world and still like watching sports. They’re not mutually exclusive!
DeBlois on the production circumstances of the first “How to Train Your Dragon”: Chris Sanders and I joined that production pretty late in the game, actually. They spent a couple of years going down the path of a very faithful adaptation of the books, and we were encouraged to depart from that. We did a page one rewrite fourteen months out from release and using everything that had been built, we rushed that movie out. It was pretty unique in the world of animation because we’re usually given about three years to make a movie, and that one had to come together really fast. There was a lot of enthusiasm behind it, and I think that there was a need to commit and gather the support of the studio and everybody involved.
DeBlois on the difference between the first and second films: The first one, we were trying to make the best of a difficult situation with crazy time crunch, and I think we put a lot of passion into it, and it turned out to be pretty beloved, which was some surprise to us. I think this time around, having gotten to know the characters, everyone feels really invested in that world. Growing up a “Star Wars” kid and being such a fan of “Empire Strikes Back,” I thought, “Here’s an opportunity to do a sequel that expands upon everything we love in the first movie, but gets a lot deeper and more sophisticated.”
Baruchel on his approach to playing an older version of Hiccup: My approach is the same as in every gig, which is I take my cues from the text. I have to have complete faith and trust in my general — Dean. The fact that we’ve developed a shorthand over — we’ve been working together for 7 years — so we’re able to communicate with each other in an intuitive way. I’ve been doing the TV show as well in between the two movies, so I never left Hiccup, I never left Berk. It’s been a part of my every day life since the first one came out, so this was just a neat, natural extension of that. … It’s also a character that I know back to front, and I take a great deal of ownership in him. I just dug what we had Hiccup doing in this one.
On passions as a kid: “I was a big comics fan,” said DeBlois. “My favorite was ‘Savage Sword of Conan.’ It’s what taught me to draw, to be honest. I learned anatomy with all those ridiculous, overly-flexed muscle that were drawn by Ernie Chan or John Buscema. I wanted to be one of those guys. I couldn’t quite figure it out, actually. I didn’t know how to join Marvel or join DC, and I found animation instead. It was never a passion of mine to arrive in Hollywood and make films. It didn’t seem like it was even a possibility in my little town in Quebec. I think what this world has brought to me is the ability to do all those things — create characters, create stories, frame them in really interesting ways — but doing it in a way that’s living a breathing and has a reach that travels the planet.”
“The one thing we always said is that there’s always money for books,” said Baruchel. “I always read from a very early age. For me, my greatest obsession was G.I. Joe. I rarely had an interest in going out and playing softball with the kids in the neighborhood when I could go to my bedroom and create these massive multiverses. When I played with my G.I. Joes, it was never Joes versus Cobra. I’d always find a way to make up my own plot every single time. You take that and you combine it with my obsession with the Punisher — because that was my hero when I was a kid. When you’re a kid, you pick your superhero, or they pick you — it’s not to say I wasn’t into Superman or Batman like everyone else was, but for whatever reason, Frank Castle had a big connection with me. … My mother is one of the world’s great Sci-Fi nerds. We have boxes and boxes and boxes still in her basement of multiple copies of every Asimov, every Arthur C. Clarke, every Piers Anthony — there was never an option. I was [a geek] from the moment I was born.”