How To Train Your Dragon is as bad-ass as Avatar

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

When DreamWorks began its upcoming 3-D animated movie How to Train Your Dragon, it started out as a light kids' movie, but it quickly turned into a surprisingly kick-ass action movie that draws comparisons to James Cameron's own 3-D epic.

Jay Baruchel began voice work on the main character, the young Viking named Hiccup, three years ago, but when directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois joined a little over a year ago, they changed everything, upping the dragon-flying, fire-breathing action, Baruchel said.

"It was a lot younger," Baruchel said of the original version, in an exclusive interview last week in Beverly Hills, Calif. "Where this one is sort of dark and ballsy, the other one was kind of more cutesy. It was quite funny, but it's not the epic that it is now."

Baruchel felt comfortable swearing about its PG-rated awesomeness. "This movie, honestly, to me, is going to be nominated for f--kin' best picture, in my opinion," he said with some exaggeration. "I really think it's balls to the wall. It's a movie. The other one was a really great story, but it lacked some of the gravitas that this one has. That's what the [the directors] brought. They made it darker. They brought their own unique visual style to it. Everything that captivates you in the movie, I think, is because of them."

In the film, Hiccup is a Viking teen whose father wants him to become a big, strong dragon slayer. Hiccup meets a Night Fury dragon named Toothless and learns instead how to ride him.

The dragon flights are so wild that some critics are comparing them to footage from Avatar. "When I started recording, actually, I was kind of doing a kid voice and stuff," Baruchel said. "Not on my own, it was their direction, but he was a younger kid, and everything about it was younger. He didn't work at the blacksmith shop and didn't make the weapons. He was just more kind of a quintessential goofball to all the other normal Vikings, which is still very much there, but they just gave him a lot more."

Co-director Dean DeBlois explained how he and Sanders beefed up the film. "Part of that was creating a level of believability within the world so that we understood the stakes and the peril," DeBlois said in a press conference earlier that day. "That meant removing a certain amount of magic and replacing it with elements that we understand, taking the very brilliant decision of having multiple breeds of dragons but imbuing them with characteristics that we understand and appreciate and recognize in the animal world. We thought there were enough cues and personality traits to be gleaned from the natural world that would actually help us in our storytelling—the hive behavior of their dragons' nest; that they serve a larger, dominant master; Toothless being panther-like, black panther, vermilion in his design—that all of these things created elements of a story that would be best for Hiccup's journey of befriending an enemy and understanding the unknown without having communication to complicate that."

With all the different dragons in the film, everyone is sure to have a different favorite. Baruchel is a little biased. "Oh, Toothless," Baruchel said. "Come on, he's a Night Fury. He's the stealth bomber of dragons, and he's an adorable, catlike creature. ... And the big one at the end, the Green Death, that one's pretty special too."

How to Train Your Dragon opens Friday.

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