TORONTO—Canadian writer-director Dean DeBlois says he thought about the “Star Wars” series when dealing with the “tremendous pressure” he faced in making the “more ambitious” sequel to the Oscar-nominated “How to Train Your Dragon.”
“We all had it in our minds from the very beginning that if we’re going to jump on to this, we have to make it a film that stands on its own and that will kind of live or die on its own merits and not repeat ourselves as best we can,” said the 44-year-old.
“So we used ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ as kind of a model of: ‘Well here’s a film that not only lived up to its predecessor, which had a very fervent fanbase, but actually surpassed it.’ So that was our goal.”
The approach worked as the star-packed “How to Train Your Dragon 2” got a Golden Globe nomination for best animated feature film Thursday morning. It’s up against “The Lego Movie,” “Big Hero 6,” “The Boxtrolls” and “The Book of Life.”
DeBlois, who was born in Brockville, Ont., and grew up in Aylmer, Que., said he’s been busy writing the third instalment in the “Dragon” trilogy (which he also plans to direct) and was asleep in his Los Angeles home when his publicist called him with news of the nomination.
“I think writing for me is like going down a rabbit hole,” he said with a laugh during a telephone interview shortly after the nominations came out. “I just stop communicating with people and fall behind on email and phone calls and bills.
“But it’s a fantastic thing to wake up to.”
“How to Train Your Dragon” and its sequel are loosely based on the book series by British children’s author Cressida Cowell.
DeBlois said he and Chris Sanders were brought on as co-writers and co-directors of the first film “at the 11th hour” after DreamWorks had trouble developing it. “It was a real rush to the finish,” he said, but the duo went on to earn nominations for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best animated feature (the film also got an Oscar nomination for best original score).
With the sequel, they had more time and money to “dream big” and “get really ambitious,” he added.
But Sanders couldn’t do the sequel because he was busy working on “The Croods,” so DeBlois was on his own as writer-director.
“That was a challenge in and of itself and it definitely forced me to grow, because I couldn’t rely on anyone else,” said DeBlois.
Then there was the pressure of not only living up to the first film but trying “to surpass it, because the fans are so vocal and fervent,” he added.
The sequel was also the first film to put DreamWorks’ new animation software tools to the test, which turned out to be a blessing as it allowed animators to have more control and use a stylis on a tablet to manipulate characters with real-time results, said DeBlois.
Another blessing: getting Cate Blanchett onboard as for the part of Valka, a dragon rescuer.
DeBlois said he wrote the part with Blanchett in mind and approached her about it at a cocktail reception prior to the 2011 Oscars telecast.
“She replied saying that her three boys were huge fans of the film and they watch it often at their house and she wanted to know more about the character,”
“As I described this kind of Dian Fossey/Jane Goodall type of character who had been living alone with dragons for 20 years, it was amazing—she was all dressed up but she immediately started to show some of the mannerisms of what a woman living among dragons would act like.
“She started getting into it and then she smiled and said, ‘Well, send me the script, I’m not doing anything.”‘
The Golden Globes will air live from the Beverly Hills Hotel in California on Jan. 11.