Filmmakers swoop in to save 'How to Train Your Dragon' in the 11th hour

BY BRANDY MCDONNELL Modified: March 26, 2010 at 1:19 pm •  Published: March 26, 2010

"I am the one they call when things go wrong, and things have indeed gone wrong,” intones the daunting character Cobra Bubbles in the 2002 hit animated movie "Lilo & Stitch.”

For their latest movie, writer-directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois took such a call, facing the daunting challenge of fixing what had gone wrong with a stalled film adaptation and transforming it into a soaring 3-D fantasy-adventure. For their part, the new animated feature "How to Train Your Dragon” might as well be called "How to Revive Your Movie in About a Year.”

"This was one of those situations where we were called upon in the 11th hour to take over the film because the story was mired with trouble,” DeBlois said from Dallas in a recent phone interview with both filmmakers. "Chris and I love the challenge of taking really good elements and trying to create a story around them.”

"How to Train Your Dragon,” opening today, tells the tale of awkward Viking teen Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), a skinny, creative and witty resident of the isle of Berk. Unfortunately, none of his attributes are appreciated by the tough townsfolk, whose chief concern is fighting off the ferocious dragons that regularly wreak havoc. Despite his scrawniness, Hiccup wants to become a true dragon-slaying Viking, if for no other reason than to please his perpetually disappointed father, Chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler).

But when Hiccup encounters a wounded dragon, instead of killing it, he dubs it Toothless and forges a friendship that has him rethinking his tribe’s view of their winged neighbors.

At the movie’s Los Angeles premiere, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg called Sanders and DeBlois remarkable talents who have been a credit to the studio since joining it about 18 months ago. DreamWorks Animation spent several years trying to adapt Cressida Cowell’s whimsical 2003 children’s book into an animated adventure before asking the dynamic duo to take over.

"When we joined the project, they said, ‘Here’s the deal: We love the world; we love all these different types of dragons, the world of Vikings, the great northern settings. The thing we don’t have is a story that really takes advantage of that world.