DreamWorks Unleashes the Dragons
An adolescent Viking who bonds with a dangerous dragon? Sounds a little like Lilo & Stitch. Well, it's no coincidence because How to Train Your Dragon (opening today from DreamWorks Animation and released by Paramount Pictures) reunites Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois. They even get excited when you bring up the comparison.
"One of the things that Dean and I both learned from the last few movies is that we always want more real estate where music and acting can do the writing for us," Sanders suggests. "And one of the things we're happiest about with this film is that we found several places where we could step back and let [that happen]."
"We looked at various movies with a similar vibe and found them to be lacking in originality and depth," DeBlois adds, "particularly dragon movies of late, so we went back to an original source of inspiration for us, which was The Black Stallion, and that was such a pure bond that was created between that boy and that wild horse on the beach, and there's that incredible cinematography by Caleb Deschanel. We wanted to be efficient with our storytelling and create pockets within the movie where it can be a little timeless, and let it breathe and open up and not feel rushed along by the pace and let it specifically be wordless and let the music carry us through. So it was a mission to protect that space tooth and nail and get it down to its essence because we weren't working with that much time."
Indeed, the pair was very rushed, with only a year to jumpstart a film that was already in production but deemed too kid-friendly and precious. In an ironic twist, considering what happened to Sanders at Disney with American Dog turning into Bolt, Sanders put The Croods on hold at the studio to attend to Dragon, based on the popular Scottish-tinged children's book by Cressida Cowell. Sanders immediately recruited his former partner.
"The original task was to energize the story but we ended up doing a big rewrite -- it just sort of happened," Sanders recounts. "And the more story engineering we did, the more we realized we couldn't hold on to the pieces that had been put into production. So we did keep all of the character designs and a lot of the set designs and modified things and created a few new characters. The father/son story [between Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler, and Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel] was the starting point for us: everything else blossomed from there."
Thus, Dragon became more of an action/adventure with greater jeopardy and emotional depth between Hiccup and Toothless, the mysterious dragon that he inadvertently captures and befriends.