Well, this is a grand surprise!
WonderCon 2017 officially kicked off this weekend, bringing with it a pre-SDCC flood of news from the world of geek/nerd entertainment. But it’s rare that these types of conventions would serve as the launch pad for any big animation stories. But it happened, and it was kinda glorious.
In the 15 minutes leading into DreamWorks Animation’s panel on the upcoming third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender, a ‘secret panel’ of sorts took place. Dean DeBlois, writer/director and current architect of the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, arrived on stage alongside Jay Baruchel (the voice of Hiccup) and made (for Dragons fans) an earth-shattering announcement: How to Train Your Dragon 3, once considered the third an final installment of the trilogy, will now be split into two separate films!
In an unprecedented move by an animation studio, DreamWorks Animation will be going the Harry Potter route in concluding the epic saga that began with the first film in 2010.
As told to a largely enthusiastic crowd at WonderCon, Dean also confirmed the release dates for the films. How to Train Your Dragon 3 – Part 1 will occupy the March 1, 2019 launch date (once set for the film as a whole) while How to Train Your Dragon 3 – Part 2 will land in theaters on March 20, 2020.
According to Dean, the decision to split the two films – an idea that originated back in 2014 with the release of How to Train Your Dragon 2 – wasn’t a decision made by their new handlers at Universal Pictures (of which DreamWorks Animation now functions as one of its subsidiaries), but rather was a decision made between him, Bonnie Arnold (the current co-president of DWA) and Chris DeFaria, now the president of DWA’s Feature Animation Group. Donna Langley, Chairman of Universal Pictures, views Dragons as an important franchise for DWA and Universal, and thus signed off on the idea.
“To be honest, if I didn’t think that the story was big enough for two films, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Dean said to the crowd. “I personally wanted to get the record straight on why we are doing this now. It was just a realization that not only did we want to close the story of Hiccup and Toothless on a high note, but we also wanted to give all of our characters and story threads room to breathe. A complete story, told in two parts, allows us to do just that.”
Baruchel also chimed in, confirming that he had recently begun recording for Part 2: “I know it’s a crazy idea, but for this movie it just makes too much sense!” Baruchel told the crowd. “What Dean has planned for all you guys is so badass, and it’s even more badass that these movies are being treated like big live-action blockbusters. It’s the coolest thing ever and it’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me as a actor to be a part of something like this.”
Plot-wise, Part 1 will function as a “political thriller of sorts,” with Hiccup and Toothless caught in the center of a worldwide struggle to unite humans and dragons as Drago’s influence continues to grow. Part 2 is, as Baruchel puts it, is “basically a war film,” with Hiccup and Toothless forced to make impossible decisions in order to save their respective species. As the films don’t follow the original books, Dean confirmed that Part 1 was designed as to have a natural end point that Part 2 can easily pick up from.
Not much else was spilled from either Dean or Baruchel, other than that the ongoing mystery behind the Night Furies will be resolved (Toothless’ love interest plays a role) and, yes, not everybody will live until the end. “It’s almost an understatement to say that both films will get pretty heavy at some points,” said Baruchel. “No spoilers here, but there are some characters that you guys know by name that will definitely bite the dust.”
Following off that, Dean ended the surprise panel with this statement: “What we are emphasizing here is that we’ll be going quite a bit darker than even the second film. That’s not to say that the humor and wonder and warmth of these movies will go away, but there’s a more concerted effort among all of us to deliver a closing chapter worthy of the boldness, bravery, and unconventional spirit of this franchise. I can’t thank Arnold, DeFaria, and Langley enough for the opportunity to tell the story we want to tell and I can’t thank the fans enough for supporting this incredible world we’ve built over the past decade.”
“See you in 2019 and 2020!” added Baruchel.
What do you think? Are there other animated franchises that deserve this treatment?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes