Canadian ‘Dragon’ Oscar nominee Dean DeBlois entering a new den: live-action


TORONTO — Like the protagonist in his Oscar-nominated “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy, Canadian filmmaker Dean DeBlois is going through a transformation of sorts.

The writer-director from Aylmer, Que., is up for his third career Oscar on Sunday for “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” the final installment in his animated coming-of-age story about a Viking named Hiccup.

Montreal-raised comedy star Jay Baruchel voiced Hiccup, who grew into a young adult and in the last film parted with his dragon, Toothless.

With the saga done, DeBlois says he’s also making a shift in his own life.

“I’m kind of setting aside animation for a moment and seeing if I can get a live-action project off the ground,” said DeBlois, whose other beloved animated projects include the films “Lilo & Stitch” and “Mulan,” and the Canadian TV series “The Raccoons.”

“I like a new challenge, especially if I’m a little nervous or fearful, it’s usually good sign. And I think after spending 10 years at DreamWorks working with largely the same crew — with the same world, the same characters — it feels healthy and exciting to be taking on new projects.”

Among those projects is the film “Micronauts,” which DeBlois is writing for Paramount Pictures, based on a 1970s toy line.

He also has a first-look, overall deal at Universal Pictures, in which he pitches original projects to the studio before going elsewhere with them.

Universal recently took on his reimagining of “Treasure Island” and his original “Storybook Ending” project, a hybrid of animation and live-action.

“I’ve got to get a number of them going, because inevitably they might stall and in some cases projects just fall apart, so you always hope that one of them is going to make it through,” DeBlois said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.

DeBlois also got Oscar nominations for the first “How to Train Your Dragon,” which came out in 2010, and its 2014 sequel.

His competition for best animated feature this year is “I Lost My Body,” “Klaus,” “Missing Link” and “Toy Story 4.”

Like the past two times he was nominated, DeBlois plans to attend Sunday’s show with his husband, as well as his mother, who lives in Eastern Passage, N.S., and isn’t shy about schmoozing on the red carpet.

“She’s met a lot of her very favourite actors, like Meryl Streep, just being able to tap them on the shoulder and start a conversation,” DeBlois said.

“It’s really fun to watch it through her eyes. In fact, I’m more intimidated than she is. She just spots somebody she wants to have a conversion with and goes up, interrupts whatever conversation they might have been having and introduces herself.”

DeBlois shares this year’s nomination with producers Bradford Lewis and Bonnie Arnold.

He said he feels honoured by awards love but also carries a sense of guilt on behalf of the entire cast and crew when a film doesn’t win, as was the case with the first two in the franchise. The latest film was also nominated for a Golden Globe but lost out to “Missing Link.”

“For a few weeks we can feel proud of ourselves — right up until the awards ceremony. And then four out of the five (nominees), as happy as we might be for the winners, you go home feeling a little dejected,” DeBlois said with a laugh.

“It’s just because I feel the crushing disappointment of the entire crew and all of their hopes dashed.”

Now that he’s been through it a few times, he takes it “in stride,” DeBlois added.

“I’m really proud of these movies, really proud of the effect that they’ve had on our fans. It seems to have resonated really well and it’s become kind of a treasured franchise for a lot of people — and that makes me really happy.”


Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press