How To Train Your DragonStarring the voices of: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller.
From DreamWorks Animation, the studio that brought you "Shrek", "Madagascar" and "Kung Fu Panda" comes "How to Train Your Dragon".
Set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild dragons, and based on the book by Cressida Cowell, the action comedy tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn't exactly fit in with his tribe's longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers.
Hiccup's world is turned upside down when he encounters a dragon that challenges him and his fellow Vikings to see the world from an entirely different point of view.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON opens in Australia March 25, 2010.
From the studio that brought you "Shrek," "Madagascar" and "Kung Fu Panda" comes "How to Train Your Dragon"-an adventure comedy set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild fire-breathing dragons, based on the book by Cressida Cowell. The story centers around a Viking teenager named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), who lives on the Island of Berk, where fighting dragons is a way of life. The teen's rather progressive views and offbeat sense of humor don't sit too well with his tribe or its chief
who just happens to be Hiccup's father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). When Hiccup is included in Dragon Training with the other Viking teens-Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasee), and twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (T.J. Miller)-he sees his chance to prove he has what it takes to be a fighter. But when he encounters (and ultimately befriends) an injured dragon, his world is flipped upside down, and what started out as Hiccup's one shot to prove himself turns into an opportunity to set a new course for the future of the entire tribe.
Also starring is Craig Ferguson as Gobber, the village Blacksmith and Dragon Training instructor, who sees the potential in Hiccup's unique skill set, even when Stoick does not.
"How to Train Your Dragon" is produced by Bonnie Arnold ("Toy Story," "Tarzan," "Over the Hedge"), written by Will Davis and Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders ("Lilo & Stitch," "Mulan"), and based on the book by Cressida Cowell.
DreamWorks Animation SKG Presents "How to Train Your Dragon," a Paramount Pictures release-and DreamWorks Animation's second InTru 3D Movie-featuring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller. The film is directed by Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois. The screenplay is by Will Davies and Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders. The producer is Bonnie Arnold. The executive producers are Kristine Belson and Tim Johnson. "How to Train Your Dragon" has been rated PG by the MPAA for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.
Getting Ready For Battle
It was nearly six years ago when the book series of British author Cressida Cowell came to the attention of creative executives at DreamWorks Animation. With an established reputation for taking small but well-respected titles and spinning them into box office success, it didn't take more than a Norse minute for them to see the cinematic potential in the exploits of a scrawny kid named Hiccup trying to find his niche in the brawny world of Vikings. "If you're writing about Vikings and Dragons it has got to be something that is going to be on a grand scale," says Cressida Cowell. "I was incredibly excited when DreamWorks expressed interest in the books, as I knew they could do the movie on a scale that I could barely even imagine!"
Coming off of her success of the DreamWorks suburban adventure comedy "Over the Hedge," it also didn't take long for producer Bonnie Arnold to become interested in the newly acquired property. She kept her eye on the project as it bubbled its way through the development process, and when DreamWorks Animation co-president of production Bill Damaschke asked her what she wanted to work on next, she chose "How to Train Your Dragon."
For Bonnie Arnold, one of the biggest challenges as a producer was taking an established world like the one created in Cressida Cowell's books and adapting it into a full-length feature film. "We wanted to make the film a big event, a real action-adventure with great characters that would be appealing to a broad audience," explains Bonnie Arnold. "In all our other movies, the main characters are adults or animals, but in this film, we have a teenager as our hero and that is a new direction for the studio. Hiccup's personality and his interactions with the dragons and the different personalities of the Vikings are the basis for the humor in the story, versus humor that is more satire or topical. It's got adventure and humor and heart, the elements were all there, but we just needed a strong writing/directing team to help shape it."
To helm the project, the studio turned to Oscar®-nominated writer/director Chris Sanders and writer/director Dean DeBlois. For Chris Sanders, the attraction to Hiccup's tale was immediate: "I think the story inside this story is one of emotional depth, which I thought was exciting, but what piqued my interest were the flying sequences," says Chris Sanders. "For a very long time, I have wanted to do a film that somehow involved creatures, people or superheroes flying, so when I read an early version of this story, I thought, 'Oh, my gosh! We can take that to places that you've never been before!'"
"Chris Sanders called me up on a weekend right after Jeffrey Katzenberg had talked to him," adds writer/director Dean DeBlois, "and he mentioned that 'How to Train Your Dragon' was something that was really in my wheelhouse, specifically, a teenaged protagonist in a larger-than-life fantasy action-adventure. And that's really something that I am drawn to-those are the stories that I write. I immediately was engaged and I read the book. I could see a lot of potential for what could be, and working with Chris Sanders again just sounded like an exciting thing."
While the book picks up at a point where dragons have become integrated into the Vikings' societal structure, the filmmakers saw that taking the timeline back a few years would prove to be key. Explains Bonnie Arnold, "In terms of storytelling, I think our breakthrough was crafting an origin story-how Hiccup and his relationship with a dragon named Toothless really changed his world. It was this story we wanted to tell, about how he started the relationship between the Vikings and the dragons that led to the adventures in the books, the ones that we hear about, and know and love."
Cressida Cowell's books were loosely based on the author's childhood experiences spent on a remote, uninhabited island off of the west coast of Scotland. Without roads, houses or electricity, it was the ideal setting for a young Cressida Cowell's imagination to run wild, the backdrop that would later provide a foundation for the world of Vikings and dragons in her stories. It wasn't much of a stretch to see herself in the scrappy Viking-in-training named Hiccup, with a chief named Stoick for a father. Yet even though Hiccup is as far from the standard Viking physique as one can get, he still yearns and tries to become a fighter in a society of warriors.
"Vikings are tough, with a code and a creed," explains Chris Sanders. "Fighting is second nature to them. If you're a Viking, you just don't back down from a fight-you're physically strong, you're brave, you don't flinch. The thing about Hiccup that we love is that he wants to be a Viking. It's not like he woke up one day and said, 'I wish I weren't one of these guys.' On the contrary, he desperately wants to be one of them."
That perspective helped the filmmakers shape the motivation and personality of Hiccup into that of a teenager realising his own potential. "He doesn't quite understand everything that is going on around him, but one thing is clear-his perspective and abilities are different," continues Chris Sanders. "His dad doesn't get it, the village doesn't get it. But we do, and that's what we love about the character."
Head of story Alessandro Carloni offers, "There were many inspiring qualities in the book that we wanted to incorporate into the film. There was definitely a lot of charm in how the author described the everyday life of Vikings. We wanted to kick it all up a notch, age up the protagonist and set it firmly in the action-adventure genre. We wanted to keep the charm of the language, but show it in another way. How do Vikings live, travel, hunt? That's where we began."
"We really pushed it beyond the usual comfort zone of what we are used to doing," interjects producer Bonnie Arnold, "and I have to give the studio credit for letting us do that."
"And that comes from DreamWorks Animation's own chief," says Chris Sanders. "If you're doing something halfway, he'll catch it. He reminds you that while you're solving story problems, you're also making a movie. He always challenges you to be bold bold with what you're doing. To never settle. To go all the way."
But at the core of everything, as always, is the story, and in that the studio found its champions in the pairing of Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois. As producer Bonnie Arnold observes, "Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, at their core, are great storytellers. You can have all the great animation, music, sound effects, you name it, but it has to be supporting a great story. As directors and writers they had in their head a way to tell this story, a very specific adaptation of a beloved book. They are particularly good at communicating that to everyone on the project. It's my job, and the crew's job, to realise that vision on the screen. They're great at inspiring everyone, which, in turn, challenges all of us to bring back something better."
Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois met working on "Mulan," and had their first collaboration writing and directing together on "Lilo & Stitch," nominated for the Best Animated Feature of 2002 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The two found that working together improved their craft. Says Dean DeBlois, "We seemed to connect on the same sorts of ideas-we can arrive at the same end result, but we come at it from different perspectives. I think that I'm able to take on his ideas and add to them without derailing them, and I think he does the same for me. So as we write or direct together, it turns out to be a really beneficial arrangement-there's a sense of creative simpatico. We complement each other."
"We have a good working relationship. For us, the trick is to be hard on the story and test it for weakness, but not go too far and end up with a movie that's lost its delicate parts. You want to craft a tale that makes sense, but still retains its surprises and magic. The only way to do that is to trust each other, to really believe in each other's instincts. Dean DeBlois and I have the same overall sensibilities, and tend to strike the same tone with our storytelling. That said, we usually come at things from different directions, so we are very liable to write scenes differently than the other one would, but usually arrive in the right place. We outline the story together but then divvy up the scenes and dive into them individually. It's how we cover the most ground. Then we read each other's pages. I'm always surprised at the angle Dean DeBlois takes, but I always like where he ends up, or where he's heading. I make sure my notes concentrate on making his scenes work, and don't try to change them into scenes I would have written. He does the same for me. Our movies are a true collaboration."
In turn, the pair found their champion in Chris Sanders and Bonnie Arnold. "Bonnie Arnold's great-you can tell she's done this many times before," says Chris Sanders. "She protects the film, and is totally onboard for what you as a director and a writer are trying to accomplish. She gives us a safe space in which to create. She fights for us as well, and the mostly wordless scenes of Hiccup and Toothless beginning their friendship, they wouldn't be in the film, if we didn't feel like this was a safe environment."
Dean DeBlois seconds, "Bonnie Arnold really excels at taking any number of chaotic situations that arise during production and getting right to the heart of what's important. And that's the best thing-as a producer, that's what you really need in the filmmaking mix. So, I trust her, and know that she always has the film's best intentions at heart."
The Vikings Who Attack
In the screen adaptation of "How to Train Your Dragon," the worlds of Vikings and dragons each have their separate domains -but when they cross, as they often do, the result is explosive and destructive. Dean DeBlois says, "We wanted to set the idea that there was a mythology to this place, and the Isle of Berk, where they live, had been sailed to many, many generations ago, about 300 years earlier. And from the first time they set foot on the island, it was beset by dragons. So, much in the way that ranchers dealt with wolves or any number of settlers dealt with perceived predators, the reaction is to fight back. These Vikings were being raided by dragons that would steal their food and damage their homes. And so, what we have is a conflict that is rooted in generations and generations of trying to cohabitate."
It is in the midst of this world that we are introduced to Hiccup, the only son of chief Stoick, who, despite his earnest attempts, simply does not fit in. In fact, whenever he tries yet another plan to win the favor of his father and the other villagers, the results are invariably disastrous. To keep him out of the fray and hopefully avert additional calamitous schemes in the hopes of redemption, Hiccup-a constant source of Viking ridicule-is assigned as an apprentice to Gobber, the blacksmith and confidante of Stoick. Despite his love for his son, Stoick often feels ashamed that his one heir is (in his eyes, anyway) totally unfit to become a Viking, much less, its future Chief. Hiccup's brains are undervalued, and his lack of brawn is viewed as an insurmountable flaw.
"The most important quality of an actor in animation," says Bonnie Arnold, "is his ability to portray something in his voice. The thing I like so much about Hiccup is that his perceived liabilities-his smarts and his offbeat viewpoint-become his greatest assets. We root for Hiccup. That quality comes through in spades in Jay Baruchel. He's smart, he's funny, and a little bit off-center in his humor."
Bonnie Arnold also credits writers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois-along with Jay Baruchel's performance-with creating an underdog character worthy of our support. "Hiccup is really the future leader, and this is something that the rest of the tribe has to come to terms with and understand."
Chris Sanders says, "It's just so much fun to work with Jay Baruchel, because he really does bring your lines to life. And its more than that, he really inhabits his scenes. Showing him your material is like showing it to Hiccup himself. While we're recording Jay Baruchel would often pause and say, "I think he'd say it more like this," and then take another run at it. Sure enough, it would always sound more comfortable. Sometimes it's just a word, but it would make all the difference. It's the part of the process where we give everything a final, custom fit. After every recording session with Jay Baruchel we would learn a little more about the character of Hiccup, and apply those lessons to the next series of scenes."
"On the Island of Berk, where the movie takes place, the rite of passage for every Viking is to go out and kill a dragon," explains Jay Baruchel. "The Vikings have been at the mercy of dragons for as long as they've been on the island. They are essentially the pests, the pigeons or the skunks or the raccoons the Vikings have to deal with-only, instead of messing up statues or tearing up gardens, they steal sheep and destroy entire villages. So for Hiccup to eventually develop something of a rapport, an affinity for a dragon, that's blasphemy in the town. Not exactly something the son of their leader should be doing."
For Dean DeBlois, Jay Baruchel not only sounds like what Hiccup should sound like, he brought to mind certain characteristics of him: "Jay Baruchel himself kind of embodies a lot of what Hiccup is. He has a trim build, is very quick-witted, and very intelligent, and he brings that to the character, so that the lines that come out of Hiccup feel very genuine. They don't feel scripted. You really feel like he's a character who has moved past that yearning for his dad's attention, and even for the town's acceptance or admiration, in general. He just feels like a character who has toughened himself up and developed a sense of comedy as a means of defense. I love that about Jay Baruchel."
Slight and funny may work for comedy, but it certainly does not work for the son of someone named "Stoick the Vast." Per Jay Baruchel: "Hiccup's dad is warlord of the Vikings. And he's just a tough son-of-a-gun-each of Stoick's arms is about the size of two Hiccups put together. I think that it's not too dissimilar from my father in real life-all he wanted was for me to play hockey, or maybe baseball, and neither of those was ever going to happen."
So, if the slight Jay Baruchel is voicing Hiccup, it makes perfect sense that an imposing actor, one that could believably sound like a Nordic commander-in-chief, would voice Stoick. How about the former King of Sparta?
Bonnie Arnold says, "Gerard Butler became more well-known with his role in '300,' and we looked at that film and thought, 'Oh, my gosh, that is our Stoick.' He's got this great big booming voice that has to fill this giant of a man. We invited Gerard Bulter in to meet and show him what we had on the movie, and he was very interested and excited."
And Gerard Butler came loaded with great work experience: "I'm very fortunate in that I've played a Viking before, and I've played a lot of these kinds of characters-I played Attila the Hun, I've done a movie set in the medieval period, so I've also used swords and shields and spears. As well as playing Leonidas [in '300'], I've actually made a movie in Iceland-I was there for three months playing Beowulf, maybe the most famous Viking story of all time, who was also pitted against a monster like we have in this movie. So, I feel like half of my career has led me to playing a role like this-being a leader, being powerful, being noble, but fighting a cause I'm not sure about, having some fear about something, but still fighting it anyway."
"I think the most important conversation we had with any of the actors was a conference call we had with Gerard Butler a few days before we recorded him," recalls Dean DeBlois. "We talked with him a lot about Stoick, as he represents all things Viking. Gerard Butler didn't want this character to come off being mean or villainous, and we really got a chance to discuss this guy's role in the film, and what his relationship to Hiccup is."
That initial phone call with Gerard Butler provided the directors with additional insights into the character of Stoick and was a turning point in the development of the film. "We decided that Stoick really loves his son, and that's probably why he's been hiding him away," says Chris Sanders. "It's not out of shame, it's out of protection. He's so convinced that if he ever lets Hiccup out of the house, for any length of time, he'll probably get himself killed, because the thing about Hiccup is that he really wants to be a Viking, so he's going to get himself-in some way, shape or form-in front of a dragon, even if it kills him, which it will, if he doesn't know what to do."
As Gerard Butler recalls, "They said, 'Let's talk about your character, and where you think he fits in.' I've never had the opportunity to take on a role for an animated movie-I thought that there was already something like 300 people working on the movie as it was and I was just a very small part. But as we talked, it became a very creative conversation, quite inspiring. They were so open to ideas, and I found myself encouraging them. It is great to see what we came up with figured into the story-for instance, the idea of Stoick speaking to Gobber about all his problems, and then a mirror scene with Gobber speaking to Hiccup, about their problems. We also turned Stoick a little the other way, turning some of the heaviness on its head. Obviously, he would still be a powerful character, but adding some humor, more concern for Hiccup, balancing that with the responsibilities of being a leader. It gave me further freedom to try things differently as we went along."The filmmakers also emphasised the quandary-with the potential for comedy, as well as pathos-of the most visible man on the island having the meekest, 'problem' child. Everyone who admires Stoick will also be painfully aware that he's somewhat burdened with potentially the biggest problem in the village, that being Hiccup.
And, as with Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler's physicality came to influence Stoick: "Kristof Serrand, who animated my character, cut together a piece about halfway through the process, which really inspired me. Everything I see on this project inspires me-one, because it's great, and two, because I have the opportunity to see and hear what I have done. All the time I was recording, I wondered why they had cameras in the studio. The piece Kristof Serrand edited intercuts between the animated version of me, and me in the studio, recording, with almost exactly the same moves. I could see a lot of my characteristics in the way I express myself, in my relationship with Hiccup, and the way I move."
And as animator inspired actor, actor inspired the filmmakers. Chris Sanders offers, "Gerard Butler is tireless, and really pulls us through the session. We have an entire film to record, but we'll spend an hour on just one scene, because I have to say that Gerard Butler is incredibly inventive. So, I think the first session we had with him was about four hours, which is very long for one of these sessions. But he ended the session with more energy than when he started. He was still coming up with stuff, but we had to just end it, because we were about to miss our flight back. I came to really look forward to these sessions with Gerard Butler, because so much good material was created on the spot."
Dean DeBlois adds, "We're very lucky to have an amazing cast on this movie, starting with Gerard Butler, who brings so much weight and passion to this character. He's the perfect casting for the über-Viking, who has a real heart of gold underneath it all. And given that he's one of the characters that has the strongest arc of the movie, we're doubly blessed, because his acting is just unbelievable. He brings so much to the character, so much thought to every session."
Filmmakers were also incredibly lucky to welcome the talents of America Ferrera, an actress whom DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg had been courting to join in on a project since her series, "Ugly Betty," had become a national phenomenon. And the character of Astrid, the most promising Viking teen on the island, was a great part.
"The character of Astrid, who's voiced by America Ferrera, didn't exist in the original book. But I think in discussing it with the filmmakers, we felt like it was important to have a strong female character in the story, something for our female viewers to latch on to, and aspire to," says Bonnie Arnold.
And Astrid is just that kind of character. She's the best in her class and the top dragon-fighting teen in all of Berk. "Hiccup is a nice contrast to her, because, in his mind, he can't do anything right. The great thing about America Ferrera is that she has a strong voice, but also has a lot of heart in it. So even though she's tough on Hiccup in the beginning, there's a warmth to her that makes her sympathetic. As she starts to understand him better and learn what Hiccup is all about, she softens a little bit, and I think America Ferrera does that beautifully," adds Bonnie Arnold.
Dean DeBlois continues, "Astrid represents the ideal, young Viking. She embodies the beliefs of those who have come before her-dragons are the enemy, and you have to take this seriously and work hard. She realises that this war that her parents are currently fighting-that all of their parents are fighting-is about to be handed down to them. In that sense, there's a great conflict with Hiccup when training begins, because he doesn't seem to be taking this seriously at all. Astrid's very focused, she works very hard and she's constantly practicing. She doesn't allow herself to have a lot of fun-we always kind of equated her with the star athlete in high school. Always focused, always practicing, doesn't partake in a lot of the fun, doesn't goof around. She just doesn't appreciate people who aren't pulling their weight. And Hiccup is definitely seen as that.
"Like the character she plays, America Ferrera's very focused," continues Dean DeBlois. "America Ferrera would take the lines and color them in a way that just feels very specific to a real person. That's what I love about the way she approached the role-not just coming in to read lines but rather coming in with a full understanding of the character. That makes all the difference onscreen."
"Astrid's not playing any games, you know, she's there to be a good Viking and learn how to defeat dragons," says America Ferrera. "She's that girl on the reality show, who shows up and says, 'I'm not here to make any friends-I'm here to win.' It was fun to get to play her-she's not mean, and if she's scared, she just channels it into productivity. She's thinking, 'Okay, I'm terrified of this dragon. How do I get out of this situation?' While all of the other characters are fumbling and terrified at the sight of the dragon, she's just all business. It was great to have the focus she has, and then to find the tender moments, where she puts that aside, as she gets to know Hiccup and comes to respect what he's doing. She realises that there's a whole other side to bravery that she hadn't considered." Not only did America Ferrera come in respecting the project, she came with a great respect for the source material and the genre: "What I love about children's books-and what Cressida Cowell is doing with these books-is giving kids permission to question things like, 'What are the dragons in my life, and, if there is a reason to be afraid, is there a way to get beyond that, to deal with it?' That's the best of what these films and books can do-take really big issues on, and present them-sometimes quite unexpectedly-in ways that kids can understand and handle."
As far as the others participating with Hiccup and Astrid in Dragon Training, while they may understand their foe, they certainly can't handle them
yet. Along for the ride are characters who are aptly named: Snotlout, played by Jonah Hill; Fishlegs, voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse; and the warring warrior twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (T.J. Miller).
"They're all teenagers, but they couldn't be more different from Hiccup," says Producer Bonnie Arnold. "Snotlout, Fishlegs and Tuffnut are actually characters from the books-but, again, we thought more female characters were needed, so we gave Tuffnut a twin, Ruffnut. And they look so much alike that it's sometimes hard to tell them apart. I think more on this film than any animated film that I've worked on, we actually got the actors together in a room doing the voices at the same time. I think a lot of the success of this ensemble is due to the fact that they had worked together before and knew each other. There was a lot of good material created by the actors on the spur of the moment."
In order to play up the 'which twin is that?' gag, the "Saturday Night Live" star Kristen Wiig dropped her vocal range and graveled the sound. It didn't hurt that both Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller are more than adept at comedy, with the chameleon-like Kristen Wiig and the stand-up T.J. Miller often veering off-page and discovering ad-libbed gems.
Kristen Wiig on the competitive Ruffnut: "I think that doing sketch comedy and voicing an animated character are very similar. Doing a sketch character, so much of who that character is is how they look, the clothes and the wig, and the same with an animated character like Ruffnut, she's just sort of hunched over and scruffy. She's got scabs on her arms, and she's beyond a tomboy. So, working with Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, we found this very rough, scratchy voice for her. It seemed to fit-long braids, crooked teeth and all."
"Watching these two record," says Dean DeBlois, "was a great opportunity. They're both hilarious. They have such a great vibe, and you feel that they are actually brother and sister, but are constantly at each other's throats. I mean, it just reminds me of growing up with my sisters!"
The accomplished comic T.J. Miller decided the cerebral approach was the way to go with Tuffnut: "I did do a little bit of Viking research. If I wore headwear, it would have horns on it. I had horns affixed to all my baseball caps, and then, sometimes, I'd just wear horns on their own. I haven't been traveling by car lately. I've only been using barges and large boats, which has been difficult in Los Angeles, for a number of reasons: one, there's no water, and two, boats get terrible gas mileage. A lot of people don't know that. I've also been fighting creatures. That's been part of my research. I fought a raccoon yesterday, and a warthog the other day."
Chris Sanders says, "The first time we heard Christopher Mintz-Plasse's voice audition, we immediately thought of Fishlegs. Fishlegs is this giant character, and we absolutely needed something to contrast with that. And Christopher Mintz-Plasse has this terrific, very squeaky, small voice. So we put the squeaky small voice with the giant character. I mean, Fishlegs is a guy who does not know his own strength. He's really a great Viking, but he's a little timid and not quite sure of himself."
Christopher Mintz-Plasse counters, "I didn't know I had a squeaky voice. I can't tell when I hear it, because when you talk, in your mind, you sound like 'the man'. So I think I sound like 'the man'. But Fishlegs is very smart. He knows about every dragon, and he spits out that information at random points, which kind of annoys his friends, but in the end, it helps. He's very strong and if I do my job correctly, hopefully, very funny."
Dean DeBlois says, "The pairing of Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs and Jonah Hill as Snotlout is perfect. Having seen 'Superbad,' I knew that these two guys were great together, and I think they're both hilarious. They both, once again, bring so much ad-libbing to the lines that actually, a lot of the time, we would pare away what the actual line was and just use the ad-libs-they felt so fresh and energetic. Everything that came out of their mouths had us all laughing."
Jonah Hill's reasons for signing on were multi-fold: "I think it seems like an awesome fantasy adventure, something really cool. I've never done a film with Vikings, or dragons, so the combo sounded exciting and fun. I think that's kind of the joy of these movies is that they're for everybody, and that's really cool to be a part of something that I would go see and that little kids would see as well. My brother has kids, and he has to see all these movies, and I think if I can try and make those movies funnier for adults, then that's a great thing."
Certainly one source of laughter is the casting of the verbally facile Craig Ferguson as Gobber, the blacksmith charged with first keeping Hiccup out of harm's way, and then leading him and the island's teen Vikings in Dragon Training. "I think he's Mr. Mom to Hiccup," Arnold wryly observes. "Gobber gives Hiccup a hard time, but deep down he cares for him. He also stands as the mediator between Hiccup and his father, Stoick." Dean DeBlois thinks, "Stoick probably thought, 'I'm going to put my son working with my best friend in the blacksmith shop, maybe he'll bulk up, develop some muscles lifting iron.' But Gobber's the one real friend Hiccup has. He's pretty tactless, but very honest in his advice to Hiccup. It's usually not great advice, but it's delivered with a bluntness and a lack of tact that is both comical and exactly what Hiccup needs to hear
most of the time."
Craig Ferguson says, "Gobber's training style for the teenage Vikings is to just throw them at dragons, and the ones that survive are obviously the ones that will survive in battle. He's not sentimental about any teenager. He feels that they're fairly expendable, and I think that's fair. Except for Hiccup. I think he's rather fond of Hiccup."
Having faced several dragons throughout his fighting career and losing a few limbs along the way, Gobber is both wiser and lighter because of it. Craig Ferguson adds: "Gobber is missing a few important parts, unlike myself. I come complete, you know, with all the bells and whistles-all the required accoutrements, bits that a human being requires in their daily business. I have most of them. Gobber, on the other hand, he does not, but he's very cheery about it. I think he views his wounds as mementos, rather affectionately, reminders of the glories of battle. But it's very interesting and unusual to see your voice coming out of an animated character, lack of parts notwithstanding. And seeing animation being done at DreamWorks is fascinating. I mean, it's an amazing building filled with very, very bright people who are very clever and they study, they are polite, and many of them smell acceptable, and that's unusual in show business, too."