Behind the Scenes at "How to Train Your Dragon"

Dragons Just Wanna Be Friends

By Krystal Ralston

How to Train Your Dragon posterA parent’s job today is so prosaic. We potty-train our toddlers, teach them how to tie their shoelaces, help them learn to ride a bike and to distinguish the di" erence between right and wrong.

Life is a little more exciting in the latest world unveiled by Dreamworks Animation, where any father worthy of the name “dad” has only one responsibility: to teach his kid how to fight and slay dragons.

How to Train Your Dragon, which opens in theaters March 26, is a story set in a mythical world where fighting dragons is a way of life and children are raised to be Vikings. Based on the children’s novel that became a series in the UK, it is an action and adventure film with stunning 3D graphics that bring the images to life for children, while cracking inbetween- the-lines jokes that only their parents will catch. 

Here, Gerald Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera and Jay Baruchel discuss the everyday challenges, mishaps and enjoyment that come with starring in an animated feature.

Baruchel, who has starred in Knocked Up and Tropic Thunder, says he embraced the idea of playing his usual coming-of-age kid persona with the role of Hiccup, a teenager looking to prove himself afe ghter – but can barely lifian ax. And when he finally captures a dragon, he cannot bring himself to end its life, and decides to set it free, only to find that it is fairly harmless and takes a liking to him.

Inspired by Sword in the Stone

The awkward, youthful nature of Hiccup allowed Baruchel to see himself within the character.

“I relate to him, because he is real skinny and childlike.

And his dad wants him to be more athletic and physical than he wants to be,” Baruchel says.

This " lm draws comparisons to the Sword in the Stone, the 1963 Disney animation about Ward, a young boy who is pushed by his elders to become a warrior while still moving through the awkward stage of young adulthood – only to get help from an outside source. That classic film had a strong impact on Baruchel and he used the memory to interpret his character in the new movie.

“When I was a kid, the Sword in the Stone – that movie was it for me,” Baruchel says. “I am kind of playing homage to Ward through Hiccup in that.” Like Ward, Hiccup is forced to do something unimaginable: take a chance and confront his fear. When he does, he realizes the world he thought he knew is something completely di# erent. Dragons might not be the monsters they appear.

A Strong Female Character

Helping him make sense of this new paradigm is his friend Astrid, a young Viking-in-training who’s no slouch when it comes to slaying dragons. The character is played by Ferrera, best known as the star of the hit TV series Ugly Betty, who’s long been consigned to playing underdog characters. Astrid gave her the chance to play a strong female character – someone she could actually relate to.

“I loved Astrid because she was ready to "fight with the boys,” says Ferrera. “I relate to Astrid in the way that she wanted to play the games that all the guys were playing, practicing to slay dragons. I felt like that growing up; I always wanted to be doing everything the boys were doing.

Instead of playing on the girls’ softball team, I made my mom let me play on the boys’ Little League baseball team.” The actors began recording the voices in 2007, while simultaneously working on other projects. Playing a strong character meant using every bit of energy and imagination solely through voice, something neither Ferrera nor Baruchel had tried before.

“I had never really done animation on this level before, a character this big in a movie and just learning to be expressive solely through my voice and not having facial expressions and body language,” Ferrera says.

Imagination was key. “The cool thing about this is you go into a studio and you really have to use your imagination to get into the headspace of the character because there are no actors to play of , there are no images you are watching,” says Ferrera.

The experience wasn’t without its challenges, according to Baruchel. “They were constantly just asking us to do a grunt – like you just caught something … like you just landed somewhere,” he recalls. “America and I literally [stood] in a room with microphones in front of us. If you saw what it looked like, it looks ridiculous.” While kids today may never have to fight a dragon, the film’s message clearly focuses on the common experience of growing up.

“I think it’s a great message of truth and courage for kids about sticking to what they believe in and learning to trust their own intuition and talents,” says Butler, who previously starred in the action film 300 and the children’s film, Nim’s Island.

“It’s a fun story with some lovely messages behind it and I think that visually it’s stunning,” he says, adding that “It’s really touching, his relationship with this dragon and his courage to stand up for what he believes in.”