- Warning: Major spoilers ahead for “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.”
- Writer and director Dean DeBlois says the final scenes in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” were partly inspired by “E.T.” and the documentary “Born Free.”
- He also reveals details like how giant dragon from the second movie was in the background of a scene, and says the movie’s ending takes place 10 years after the main story.
- DeBlois tells INSIDER the choice to recast T.J. Miller’s role was something he “didn’t have much control over.”
Writer and director Dean DeBlois brings the beloved “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy to a close with a heart-wrenching final film, “The Hidden World.” The movie concludes an epic coming-of-age arc for both Hiccup, Chief of Berk, and his dragon best friend, Toothless.
Major spoilers ahead for the end of “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.”
Following a face-off with a dragon hunter named Grimmel, the movie ends with Hiccup realising Toothless and the rest of his kind will never be safe in the human world. In an interview with INSIDER, DeBlois revealed the intended dialogue for Toothless in the heartbreaking goodbye scene.
“When Hiccup says, ‘Go lead them to the hidden world, you’ll be safe there,’ Toothless looks back to the Light Fury and then looks to Hiccup,” DeBlois said. “He pulls him close as if to say, ‘I don’t want to leave you.'”
After their tear-filled goodbyes, all of Berk’s dragons fly off to live in the recently rediscovered “hidden world.” The movie then skips ahead 10 years, showing Hiccup and Astrid getting married and eventually having children. The whole family sails to the hidden world, where Toothless and Hiccup reunite and are able to introduce their children to one another (since Toothless and the Light Fury have little dragon babies of their own).
INSIDER spoke with DeBlois about this time-jump, why Toothless didn’t recognise Hiccup right away, and more.
Kim Renfro: To start, I want to congratulate you on making everybody cry.
Dean DeBlois: Oh that’s great. That’s a victory for me. The intention was of course to give people a broad emotional experience and if they cry then all the better. It’s a little disappointing to me when people say “I almost cried.”
Renfro: What really resonates is the message about letting go of relationships or a phase in life in order to move forward. Anyone from a young kid heading into high school to a parent with kids going to college can relate. That grief is very universal.
DeBlois: That was certainly the intention. We wanted to build the whole story around that theme because you’re right, when you’re a kid something as traumatic as just having a best friend go to a different school or move away or the loss of a pet. They’re all introductions to that theme you’re going to have to deal with at several points in your life with greater impacts on your maturity as well.
Renfro: How did that come to be the message you wanted to end the trilogy with?
DeBlois: When I first joined the project […] I read Cressida Carroll’s book and the opening line had a big effect on me. It was hiccup as an adult reflecting back on his youth, and the first line was, “There were dragons when I was a boy.” And I thought, “Wow that’s something that encapsulates his story.”
It hints at a theme that I’ve always loved in stories; where you have disparate characters coming together and they have a really profound effect on one another’s lives. So much so that even if they part ways in the end, through death or otherwise, the effect is permanent and they will never be the same characters again.
That’s just something we’ve always loved whether it was “Fox and the Hound,” “Born Free,” or “E.T.,” or “Harold and Maude” – all these movies that had a greater impact on me and stayed with me longer than most other movies and stories I’ve come across. So this seemed like an opportunity to not only do the trilogy but also to have it end on that bittersweet note.
Why “The Hidden World” ended with a 10-year time jump
Renfro: Was there any apprehension of doing a time jump at the end, or were you always sure you’d show that final reunion between Hiccup and Toothless?
DeBlois: No, I looked forward to it because we had a five-year time jump between movie one and two, and then there’s only really a year that’s passed between the second instalment and the third. Because we’d already established that motif of playing with timelines, where we go backwards and Hiccup as a little boy with his father in flashbacks, we could also flash forward to see the man that he would eventually become.
Renfro: In that final scene, I assumed the time gap was due to how only dragons could easily find the hidden world, so it took Astrid and Hiccup many years of searching to navigate back to the waterfall.
DeBlois: Yeah I suppose it could be part of it, but I think more in my mind is that they said goodbye and they wanted to give [the dragons] their time. I think a curiosity just got to them after so long. They had kids of their own and I’m sure they’d been talking about dragons.
In a way it connects to my love of “Born Free” and [the story of] “Christian the Lion” – those stories where people who’ve released animals into the wild venture back there after a number of years to see if they survived. And in this case, not only did they survive, they thrived and they have offspring of their own. It’s a reassurance to the audience that they did the right thing.
Renfro: I remember watching the “Christian the Lion” video [above] for the first time, and there’s that moment of hesitation before he recognises his former owners. Is that’s why it takes Toothless a little while to realise it’s Hiccup?
DeBlois: Yeah, yeah exactly. It’s very stirring and very emotional to see that yes, [Toothless] became wild again. But the question is will they recognise one another?
Renfro: So Toothless definitely wasn’t playing an elaborate prank on Hiccup by pretending not to recognise him?
DeBlois: [Laughing] No we wanted to play it genuine. Ten years had passed, and [Toothless] had kind of forgotten his former life. It takes him a moment, especially with Hiccup looking different.
What Toothless was saying in his major emotional scenes
Renfro: You said in a Reddit AMA Toothless has “dialogue” in the story outlines so the animators can know what his looks and noises are supposed to be communicating. Are there any specifics lines you wrote for him in “The Hidden World” you can tell us?
DeBlois: After Toothless meets up with the Light Fury in the sky and she leads him to the great waterfall of the hidden world, he looks down and then he looks at her, questioning, like “What’s this?” And her reply is “My home.” And then he looks down again and he says, “Take me there.”
Then she does that little roll and grabs him by the claws and takes them down into the into the caldera. So that would be an example of when we very specifically wanted to say those things even though they’re just little coos. They have the same inquisitive nature and there’s pride in her reply.
Renfro: I feel like I’m going to regret asking this because it will just make me cry, but what is Toothless saying in his goodbye scene with Hiccup?
DeBlois: Well there are certain exchanges that are, in my mind, wordless. So after Hiccup and Toothless share a hug, they then look at one another and their eyes meet. And Toothless is saying, “It’s time.” So when Hiccup hops over on one leg, he says, “You’re right bud, it is time.”
And then when Hiccup says, “Go lead them to the hidden world, you’ll be safe there,” Toothless looks back to the Light Fury and then looks to Hiccup. He pulls him close as if to say, “I don’t want to leave you.” It should come across that there’s reluctance even though they both recognise this is the moment to say goodbye.
DeBlois reveals hidden details and how the magical score came together
Renfro: “The Hidden World” is peppered with little references to the first two movies. I think I spotted Drago’s bewilderbeast when Toothless is in the hidden world?
DeBlois: Yes, with his broken tusk. We deliberately put Drago’s bewilderbeast down there because we wanted to suggest that even a bewilderbeast could be rehabilitated. So he’s down there cheering with the masses for Toothless.
We also peppered in a few more larger and smaller Light Furies [in that scene] so we would help to clarify the idea that she’s a dragon subspecies. There are more [Light Furies], but Toothless is the only one that’s left of his kind.
Renfro: What was it like working with John Powell on the score for this final instalment?
DeBlois: At this point, I just trust John so implicitly. I involved him early with a script and gather his feedback and let him reflect upon it. We’ve been working together for so long that all I really said was, “Do your thing, but this is also your last chance. As much as possible just make it the very best you can and anything you wanted to squeeze in there before this trilogy wraps up, now’s the time.”
He has such a great innate story sense, as well. He supports the story in these thematic harmonies that I think are really special. They might not be the themes I have at the top of my mind, but they definitely echo and support and add depth to the ideas I’m playing with on the surface.
I’ve heard it said before, and I completely agree, that music is half of storytelling in a film. It does so much of the heavy lifting. You can stop characters from talking and just out of sequence that employs the power of music and really masterful animation in the hands of our very seasoned artists […] and those sequences, where we just hush the characters and let the music play out and the animation weave its wonder, those tend to be the scenes people talk about the most and they become the most iconic moments of the movies.
Why T.J. Miller’s character Tuffnut was recast
Renfro: One of the funnier bits in “The Hidden World” comes when Ruffnut is captured by Grimmel and is just the world’s most obnoxious prisoner. Was Kristen Wiig improvising in that scene at all?
DeBlois: Kristen’s great because I will script the base of what we’re recording and then she’ll always add little bits and pieces. It just rolls off of her – she’s an amazing improv actress and such a natural comedian. She can make anything sound funny, and she’s so easygoing and just willing to take anything for the most ridiculous degree.
Renfro: Her character’s twin, Tuffnut, also had a bit of a boosted role in this movie. Can you talk about the decision to recast the role with Justin Rupple instead of T.J. Miller?
DeBlois: I mean just a little, only that I didn’t have a lot of say in the matter. I really liked T.J. as a person and he’s been a friend. He’s only ever done terrific work for us, including under [“The Hidden World”]. I was reluctant to make the change but it was a decision that came on high, you know, tied to his headlines last year. So I went along with it, but it’s regretful because he’s such a comedic genius and he had given us some really great stuff.
Renfro: Was any of his performance kept in the movie or is that all Justin Rupple we hear? There were times when I could barely tell.
DeBlois: [Rupple] comes close to the sound of [Miller] which is part of the reason why we cast him. He’s also really good with the ADR [Automated Dialog Replacement], which is a part of the post-production process. We had animated to [Miller’s] performance. We couldn’t go back and change the animation, so we had to replace lines right down to the of the length and nuance and cadence.
So it was a tough, tough job that Justin took on, but I think he did really well. We replaced it as best we could so the character still felt intact. So yeah. It’s unfortunately one of those things I didn’t have much control over.
Renfro: What do you hope people take away from this final instalment in the trilogy?
DeBlois: I hope they feel satisfied, and they feel that it came to a conclusive and finite end in a way that still celebrated the world and the characters. Hopefully we moved them a little, and if it brought them is tears, all the better.
Because it’s 10 years of my life and 10 years of the lives of the 350 people who worked on these movies. It’s very validating to us that the choices that we made are are well received. I feel proud of it and I’m ready for it to go out there and do what it does. And hope that it earn its place in film history as the trilogy that held it together to the very end.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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