One of the highlights of Comic-Con for me was chatting with Dean DeBlois and legendary artist Drew Struzan about his exclusive How to Train Your Dragon 2 teaser poster. It’s pure Struzan with Hiccup and Toothless ascending to the top of the world. There will be more posters to come, perhaps a triptych for the trilogy, which continues June 20, 2014 with Dragon 2.
“For me, there’s no artist out there who can capture in one image the way a movie feels and it just becomes this indelible, encapsulation of the experience,” DeBlois suggested.
For Struzan, who has indelibly encapsulated poster art for Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, Blade Runner, The Goonies, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, among 150 others, Dragon lured him out of retirement for the second time. He’s been disenchanted with computers overtaking his hand-drawn craft and Hollywood becoming more vulgar and violent.
“There’s so much heart and so much motivation [in Dragon] to become a better person,” Struzan enthused, “Excuse me, but I’m an old-fashioned guy.” The humble Struzan is the subject of a fascinating new doc, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (Kino Lorber), directed by Erik Sharkey, which debuted at Comic-Con and will be available soon on VOD.
But with Chris Sanders off pursuing The Croods, DeBlois is flying solo on the Dragon sequels with a bolder rite of passage story. However, you can be sure that his anarchic spontaneity will somehow find its way into the trilogy. The second installment, meanwhile, is modeled after The Empire Strikes Back as a bridge.
We pick up with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as a more adventurous teenager (a Viking Luke Skywalker) in search of new frontiers with his dragon pal, Toothless. Only there are dangerous consequences when he bumps into a dark dragon rider (Djimon Hounsou) bent on conquest.
“There is nothing that is truly an homage,” DeBlois admitted. “I didn’t lift anything. I think my hope is that the DVD of this film could sit on the shelf next to The Empire Strikes Back and give you that same sense of elation when you watch it. What I loved especially about Empire is that it expanded Star Wars in every direction: emotionally, its scope, characters, fun. It felt like an embellishment and that’s the goal.
“I hope all of it feels organic to this world and doesn’t feel like a rip-off of anything. But there are story terms that lend themselves to this larger coming of age. The idea that it’s a trilogy, that Hiccup will ascend to become the wise chief of Berk by the end of it, and that we will end where the first book started, which is a Hiccup voice-over saying there were dragons when I was a boy. There’s a bittersweet journey that’s emotional and full of scope.”
To the observant Struzan, it certainly has a familiar and primal ring to it: “It’s Joseph Campbell and George and Star Wars and classic literature. Golden child that has all the talent that he can’t let out because nobody will let him. And then when he does, he grows and matures and brings his friends and society along with him. It’s classic lessons of humanity that every generation has to be reminded of.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s animated — it’s striking and real. Like all art, it’s beautiful, it’s kind, it’s peaceful. And that’s what draws me to it.”
Struzan now patiently waits for DeBlois and DreamWorks Animation to complete Dragon 2 so he can experience its soul and capture it in his next poster.
Like Struzan, I also believe that DeBlois is embarking on a very special animated journey.