Dragon sequel 'richer' than original, says director

Director Dean DeBlois and star America Ferrera on the second dose of vikings and dragons

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The director and voice actors of How to Train Your Dragon 2 talk about their epic animated adventure, the second film to be based on the fantasy novels of Britain's Cressida Cowell.

It is hardly unusual for a big-budget animated feature to generate media interest, especially when it emanates from such a high-profile player as Hollywood powerhouse DreamWorks.

Yet the makers of How to Train Your Dragon 2, the studio's follow-up to its 2010 success, might well feel that not all news is good news after the last couple of months.

It is doubtful, for instance, that they would have chosen to have their glitzy launch event at the Cannes Film Festival gatecrashed by a prankster who crawled under an unsuspecting cast member's gown.

One wonders, too, if they were caught off-guard by the attention given to a humorous ad lib in the film which appears to suggest that one of its characters is gay.

That's a lot of headlines for a cartoon fantasy about a young Viking and his trusty dragon, even if its predecessor did earn a whopping $495m (£396m) worldwide.

At the time of writing, the sequel is not far off total worldwide takings of $300m (£175m).

Cressida Cowell: "It is going to take on a life of its own"

That eventful Cannes premiere was still 24 hours away when the BBC News website met the film's director and three of its voice stars on the French Riviera in May.

Back then, the biggest problem on their plates was what to have for lunch - a quandary admittedly made trickier by the smorgasbord laid out for their delectation at Cannes' exclusive Carlton Hotel.

Your humble (and hungry) reporter was fortunate enough to be invited to partake in this mouth-watering buffet - once the interviewees had had their fill, of course.

Before that came the business in hand - the promotion of a picture that, according to its director Dean DeBlois, is intended to take the franchise forward from the first How to Train Your Dragon.

"I'm as disappointed by sequels as most of the movie-going public," says the 44-year-old Canadian.

"So from the very start we had the ambition to not only live up to the first film, but try to outdo it.

"I looked back at sequels that have worked in the past and one of my favourites is The Empire Strikes Back. I saw it as a 10-year-old and everything I loved about Star Wars was expanded upon.

"That was really in our minds the whole time - to expand upon everything and make the world that much richer, without losing sight of the heart and the nuances of the characters."

A scene from How to Train Your Dragon 2 Cate Blanchett voices the character of Valka (centre), a mysterious dragon rider

Set five years on from the first film, How to Train Your Dragon 2 finds chieftain's son Hiccup - voiced by Canadian actor Jay Baruchel - forging his own path as an explorer and adventurer.

This does not sit well with his father Stoick (Gerard Butler), who would much rather his son stayed closer to home and shouldered his responsibilities as leader-in-waiting of the Viking isle of Berk.

Matters are complicated by the discovery of a mysterious dragon rider, voiced by double Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, who turns out to have a deep personal connection with both Stoick and Hiccup.

A more pressing concern, though, is the fearsome Drago Bludvist, a power-hungry despot with a ferocious roar capable of cowering the most ferocious of fire-breathers.

Lazy drawl

The job of bellowing this belligerent battle-cry fell to Djimon Hounsou, the Benin-born actor best known for his roles in Gladiator, Blood Diamond and Steven Spielberg's Amistad.

"That was tough," the 50-year-old admits. "It was really hard to keep Drago's voice where it needed to be.

"Eventually I had to break the vocal chords, just so I could get to his essence."

A different vocal challenge awaited Baruchel who, having impersonated Butler's Scottish brogue in the first film, found himself required to do it again for a comic scene in the second.

This time, however, he had some competition from his co-star America Ferrara, who is briefly heard in How to Train Your Dragon 2 imitating Baruchel's distinctive lazy drawl.

"That was an intimidating moment," says the Ugly Betty actress, reprising her role as Hiccup's feisty and competitive yet loyal friend Astrid.

"He was in the room and I felt really bad about mimicking him."

Baruchel, though, seems happy to take the parody as a compliment.

"That's my favourite part of the whole film, to get to hear her impression of me," he says with a smile.

A scene from How to Train Your Dragon 2 America Ferrara voices Astrid, Hiccup's competitive yet loyal friend

There will be further opportunities for mickey-taking in the third How to Get Your Dragon film, currently scheduled for release in 2016.

DeBlois is giving little away about the third instalment, beyond insisting that it will be "very powerful and emotional, and also finite".

"I can't quite give you a plot synopsis, but I can say that it will complete Hiccup's coming-of-age as a young Viking chief," reveals the film-maker.

"It will also end where Cressida Cowell's book series ends, which explains why dragons are no more - the whole mystery of what happened to them, where they went and whether they can come back."

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is now out in Scotland and Ireland and will be released across the rest of the British Isles on 11 July.

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