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Why ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ can work in live action
We explore how the beloved animated series could work as a live-action movie.
About a month ago, Universal Pictures announced that they would continue their beloved How to Train Your Dragon franchise...in a live-action installment. Sure, the initial reaction was a bit of panic for the millions who adore the three animated films based on British author Cressida Cowell's children's books of the same name. But then there was a collective cheer of approval with the news that writer/director Dean DeBlois, who wrote and directed How to Train Your Dragon, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (all of which are streaming now on Peacock!), is going to be the writer, director, and producer of the upcoming film.
This next installment in the franchise's mythology will be DeBlois' first foray into live action, and will have veteran musical-to-live-action producer Marc Platt working with him. All of that is great news and got us at SYFY WIRE thinking about what elements of the How to Train Your Dragon would be pretty great in a live-action adaptation.
We can start with triple creative threat DeBlois, who has impeccable story and visual storytelling instincts... "In Dean We Trust." Not only did he steer the animated Dragon franchise into all-time classic territory, but he's also the guy behind big story sections of Mulan, and he co-wrote and co-directed Lilo & Stitch with Chris Sanders. He knows Cowell's world inside and out, and has a character forward perspective with his storytelling. Even if he moves the franchise into a new era and introduces an entirely new cast, there's no question DeBlois will find a worthy way to make sure the human and dragon characters are the focus.
Hiccup and Company
And if DeBlois decides to adapt his existing characters from the animation trilogy into a live-action cast, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a more than worthy character to revisit. He's got the perfect underdog arc, from awkward chieftain's son to confident leader and protector of the once lost dragons. Plus, there's the Village of Berk, which is filled with big characters, from Hiccup's rivals and friends to the grown-ups who are less than perfect. Seeing the Viking era stories come to life will be visually stunning, especially when we get to see the rugged land and rocky coasts they fly over.
Technology Is Ready
If James Cameron can make Skimwings in Avatar 2 work — and they're essentially water dragons — then DeBlois has plenty of technology in the now that can step up to the challenge of making dragons come to life in a unique and impressive way. Whether it's full CGI or some kind of hybrid creation that's part practical with a CG assist, there are incredible examples of how VFX companies like Weta FX and Framestore can make audiences fall in love with them just like they did with animated Toothless.
Dragons Never Go Out of Style
Whether they were adorning tapestries in ancient times or starring in HBO shows written by George R.R. Martin, dragons have always been cool. They were the monsters of fairy tales long, long ago and remain as resonant and interesting in our modern times. And they've evolved stylistically across books, art pieces, and now in VFX, which means they're a concept that lends itself to design reinvention. Obviously, Toothless' big eyes and expressive mouth make his personality memorable, but Cowell's dragons had their own look that DeBlois and his artists tweaked for the animated movies, so there's no reason to believe he won't find the sweet spot of what a live-action incarnation looks like too.
Look to the Books
Book creator Cressida Cowell has crafted a whole world of How to Train Your Dragon stories and novels that are a great reserve of untold stories in the world. In fact, there are 12 individual Dragon books to choose from, and four mythology tomes that expand the universe too. There's plenty to augment the world or use portions that might delight the book lovers and surprise fans who think they know everything from the animated films.
The new live-action adaptation of the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy hits theaters March 14, 2025.