As the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy concludes with The Hidden World, Canadian funnyman Jay Baruchel talks about sneaking references to home into the worldwide phenomenon.
Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler
February 22, 2019
“Holy. Oh my gosh. Well, let me think.”
Jay Baruchel is doing the math, trying to figure out how many times he’s voiced Hiccup, the Viking hero of the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, over the past decade.
“Every movie I probably do about half a dozen to a dozen recording sessions, and then for the TV show it's once an episode, so 12 times three, 24 plus 10, so 36, yeah, it's gotta be...”
He trails off.
“We gotta be in the, like, between a hundred and 200 range. Probably even more than that.”
The Ottawa-born, Montreal-raised, surprisingly proud Torontonian (more on that later) is looking back on one of the most unexpected roles of his career — voicing Hiccup, the young Viking who turns from dragon hunter to dragon friend after injuring a Night Fury dragon named Toothless.
Where we pick up
As the third film begins life is nearly perfect on Berk. Hiccup’s in charge, and even Toothless finds love with a female dragon of the same species. But when the villainous Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) threatens to capture all of Berk’s dragons and destroy the idyllic Viking-dragon lifestyle, Hiccup and Toothless need to find the legendary hidden dragon home world.
“They wear their hearts on their sleeves these films, and that means us never shying away from delving into emotional stuff. We often go sadder than Bambi,” says Baruchel. “You know, I get my leg taken off in the first one and my dad dies in the second… But it's not sad for the sake of sad, right? The movies are incredibly emotional without being the slightest bit manipulative.”
A remote role
Considering how many Dragon movies and shows he’s done, it’s a good thing Baruchel, now 36, can record the majority of Hiccup’s voice work from anywhere in the world. Though Hiccup lives on the Viking island of Berk, most of his lines for this third movie were performed in a Toronto studio at King and Spadina with Baruchel’s director, fellow Canadian Dean DeBlois, on Skype.
“I open the door and I go up an elevator and nobody out there knows I’m in the process of recording words for one of the most anticipated movies ever,” Baruchel says. The first two films alone have earned more than a billion dollars worldwide.
"The movies are incredibly emotional without being the slightest bit manipulative.”
The franchise that began with 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, continued with 2014’s How to Train Your Dragon 2 and concludes with this February’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. It’s produced two TV series, a handful of short films and a videogame — most of which not only featured Baruchel’s voice but the voices of his famous co-stars like Gerard Butler as his dad Stoick the Vast (who dies in the second film, leaving Hiccup in charge of Berk) and America Ferrera as Hiccup’s lady-friend, Astrid.
Although Baruchel can’t guarantee this will be the final film, he does say, “It certainly feels like there’s a finality to it because the TV show is done as well, and that this is part three of what was always going to be a three-parter if people liked them.”
Montreal to Toronto
It’s almost cliché to say Baruchel is a proud Canadian. The man who has a maple leaf tattooed over his heart has always refused to move to New York or L.A., first buying a house in his beloved Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood of Montreal and then, a few years ago, moving to Toronto’s Beach area. “I love it there,” he says. “Toronto’s a really good town and I had, you know, really not spent enough time there to judge it fairly.”
“I open the door and I go up an elevator and nobody out there knows I’m in the process of recording words for one of the most anticipated movies ever”
Baruchel lives in a house with his fiancée, model Rebecca-Jo Dunham, their cat Tulip and two Papillon puppies, Bean and Teddy. “Like Mr. Bean and teddy bear,” he explains. “They’re brothers from the same litter.”
When asked whether there’s any crossover between training a dragon and training a Papillon, he says, “I don’t seem to remember as many Toothless pooping all over the place scenes as I have experienced with the Papillons at our house.”
A Canadian in Berk
Apparently, Hiccup has some Canadian blood in him too. While taking part in a panel discussion at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Baruchel revealed, “When I first got this job I was like, I’m gonna make Hiccup sound as hoser as I possibly can without getting in trouble.”
He expands on Hiccup’s Canadian roots: “Everything from terminology, vocabulary, intonation and just paying less attention to trying to sound American. There's always these tell tale words that give away Canadians working on American stuff…. ‘Tomorrow’ is one of them, ‘sorry’ is another one.”
And there’s the fact that Hiccup is always calling Toothless Bud. “There are precious few more Canadian terms of endearment than Bud,” says Baruchel. “That’s something very kind of ours.”
Baruchel assures us that there’s lots more in store for him after The Hidden World. “God help me, I want to work in Canadian film and television for the rest of my life,” he says, “and the vast majority of my ideas are in English and so few better places to be if that’s the case than Toronto.”
See How to Train Your Dragon with the whole family.
The Dragon films don’t use double entendre or pop-culture references to lure adults, like some other animated features. And yet, on pure heart and storytelling alone, they appeal to every age group just the same. It’s a film experience best shared in theatre, surrounded by family!