HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD written and directed by Dean DeBlois, with the voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett and F. Murray Abraham. A DreamWorks Animation release. 104 minutes. Opens Friday (February 22). See showtimes.
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World brings the animation franchise that’s spanned the entirety of this decade to a definitive end, and you might expect director Dean DeBlois and his star, Jay Baruchel, to be a little melancholy about it all. But they’re not: they’re happy with the way the film wraps up the story of Hiccup the Viking and his scaly soulmate, Toothless, and they’re treating this final press tour as a victory lap.
They’re also willing to share a secret: the trilogy’s Vikings are secretly Canadian.
Well, maybe not that secretly. Baruchel has always worn his nationality on his sleeve (and on his chest, as anyone who’s seen Knocked Up can tell you), and his Montreal Anglo accent is essential to Hiccup’s attitude and character.
“The kids of Berk are kind of their own generation, with their own dialects and accents,” DeBlois says. “The parents sound like [the] motherland they’ve come from. But I think there is a hardiness that comes with the [Canadian] environment that sort of toughens you up – and that’s reflected as well” in Baruchel’s performance.
The Hidden World finds Hiccup’s Vikings forced to abandon their island to protect their dragon friends, and off in search of a new home. The older Vikings are happy to resettle at their first stop. That impulse, Baruchel jokes, is how Canadians ended up living in Winnipeg: “Who planted that stake?”
“There’s something about living in a place that is physically demanding,” DeBlois says. “My brother-in-law has this theory that you have to be mentally stable to live in tough physical conditions, and if you don’t then you migrate to Florida and California.”
“I think that’s dead-on,” Baruchel adds. “It comes from the fact that there are not many of us [in Canada] and we’re spread out across a swath of land that gets cold as fuck, and it’s hard as fuck to survive. So we have really one option: we’re gonna get along and tough it out. If we’re going to be at each other’s throats, we’ll all fucking die, right? And if we had chosen the second thing, we wouldn’t still be here.”
Baruchel says he and DeBlois initially bonded at DreamWorks over their shared nationality – the director grew up in Aylmer, Quebec.
“We do have a belief system in common that comes from [both] pride and humility, never wanting to be a show-off, constantly doubting oneself,” Baruchel says. “But all of that paired with a fearlessness at the call of duty, doing what needs to be done without a moment’s hesitation, and rockin’ and rollin’ with whoever needs to be fucked with, you know? I think that that’s the most Canadian thing there is, right?”
The actor has explored the contradiction in his screenplays for the Goon movies, which starred Seann William Scott as a tender-hearted team player who’s unflinchingly brutal when he hits the ice. (Baruchel directed the second movie, Last Of The Enforcers, as well.)
“People would often ask me after making two movies about hockey fighting and shit, ‘Canada’s such a peaceful country, people are so unassuming and polite and self-effacing and sweet and all these things, and it just seems incongruous that we do that,’” he says. “And I don’t think it is.
“Canada was the second or third country in the world to declare war on Nazi Germany,” he continues. “Like, don’t forget that – at a time when there was less than 20 million of us, we picked our second fuckin’ fight with them in 20 years! We never shy away from that. And I think that’s Hiccup: Hiccup believes in pluralism and in diversity. However, if that’s under threat, who’s fuckin’ first up there? Hiccup! So that, to me, is essentially very Canadian.”
Maybe a little more Canadian than DreamWorks Animation would prefer, come of think of it.
“Jay was in the recording booth one day delivering a line,” DeBlois says, “and the head of the studio and our producer came on the cans saying, ‘Can you ask Jay to do that again and say ‘sorry’ instead of ‘SOREry?’ Jay heard it before I could say anything, and he said, ‘Oh, were the Vikings American?’”
“That note never came back.”