The Hidden World a lesson in how to end a trilogy
What could the harrowing survival story in the Oscar-winning film The Revenant have to do with How to Train Your Dragon?
Director Dean DeBlois, who returns to helm the third and final Dragon film The Hidden World, says he was inspired by Emmanuel Lubezki's complex and sweeping cinematography to set a new challenge for his animation team.
"We were inspired loosely in the sense that The Revenant opens with this beautiful shot where the choreography is crucial because it goes on for so long,” he says.
"That's rarely done in animation. We have this one shot that goes for over 1000 frames (at 24fps) and required 15 different animators working on it in tandem. It was very complex but we always love taking on a challenge.”
The Hidden World concludes the animated franchise's story of Hiccup, a young Viking who transforms his community from dragon hunters into dragon riders.
As Hiccup fulfils his dream of creating a peaceful dragon utopia, where humans and fire-breathers live side by side, his dragon Toothless discovers an untamed mate.
When danger mounts at home and Hiccup's reign as village chief is tested, both dragon and rider are faced with difficult decisions to save their kind.
"For all of us it was a great sense of pride in knowing we were delivering a final instalment in the way it was intended - three acts of one larger coming-of-age story,” DeBlois says.
"The aim was to complete it with integrity and purpose, not just let it drone on forever.
"We're hoping it's a bit of a roller-coaster ride emotionally. Aside from the humour and excitement and a few scares, we were definitely going for tears at the end. It's a personal disappointment (as a filmmaker) when someone tells me they almost cried.”
One of the visual highlights of the film is when Hiccup and his girlfriend, Astrid, discover the ancestral home of the dragons, a hidden sanctuary shrouded in myth.
DeBlois and his team had free rein to shape this new environment, filling it with bioluminescent plants, corals growing in mid-air and crystals the size of skyscrapers.
"We didn't want it to seem too otherworldly,” he says.
"It needed to seem like this place could exist on our planet. We pushed ourselves to find those things in nature that seem ethereal but grounded in real-world physics and biology. We wanted to create a whole world for the dragons, not just a cave.
"This challenge was partly inspired by the idea that if we were going to separate humans and dragons by the end of the movie, then this should be a place that doesn't feel like a banishment. It should feel like an inviting and tailored world for the dragons so that part of the legend is that they continue to thrive and exist to this day.
"I just love the idea of planting hope, particularly in the minds of our younger audience, so that it's not sad for the dragons to disappear. Certainly this is the conclusion of the Hiccup and Toothless story but I love the idea that the dragon world continues outside of the film.”
DeBlois, who worked on Mulan and went on to direct Lilo and Stitch, credits the trilogy's success to its broad appeal.
"When it comes to making an animated film I treat it as a medium rather than age demographic restriction,” he says.
"I try to make a movie I would want to see. We don't make films for kids, that's my mantra.”
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World opens on Thursday.
STARS: Cate Blanchett, Jay Baruchel, Kit Harington, Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig
DIRECTOR: Dean DeBlois
REVIEWER'S LAST WORD: This final adventure in the Dragon trilogy packs an emotional punch.