As an animation fanatic, one of my favorite Christmas gifts I’ve ever received was The Art of How to Train Your Dragon, a book containing the preliminary illustrations for the DreamWorks film “How to Train Your Dragon.” I was like a kid in a candy store reading it. DreamWorks has made me that kid once again with its documentary “Where No One Goes.” Starring writer-director Dean DeBlois, this documentary is a fascinating, one-hour look at the making of “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”
DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg announced in the wake of the first “Dragon” film that there would indeed be a sequel. What a surprise. But, unlike the endless, soulless parade of “Shrek” creations, I was very much looking forward to this follow-up.
I got much more than I expected. As good as its predecessor was, DeBlois’ second entry in the “Dragon” franchise is more surprising, more visually innovative, and much more epic than anyone anticipated.
After Katzenberg’s big announcement, DeBlois traveled to the Swiss Alps with close collaborators, including legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. They studied the landscape and developed an even more realistic look for this second chapter in the franchise.
The fact that “Where No One Goes” starts with clips from this trip makes DeBlois’ work endearing. He gave “Dragon” his all from the get-go. It’s remarkable how motivated he was not to rest on his laurels and repeat himself. His quest to get the best out of his team and the many examples of his calm-but-firm leadership are nothing short of inspiring.
It’s also inspiring how much “backstage” material we see in an hour of footage. We see story meetings where the filmmakers dwell on what the implications of major twists involving Hiccup’s parents would be. We also get to see animators and production designers working diligently to create a cast of characters who have matured since the first installment, as well as a world that has expanded thanks to their adventures.
In the documentary, voice actors marvel at the fact that they’re involved in something this timeless and thrilling. Musical artist Jónsi and composer John Powell collaborated on multiple songs (including the title song, “Where No One Goes”) that contribute to the excitement and emotional arc of the movie. This arc is honored by the documentary’s in-depth exploration of the specific parts of the production that contributed to it.
I realize that this is a documentary made and sponsored by DreamWorks. I also realize that it was released just in time for the Academy Awards, where it had a legitimate shot at winning Best Animated Feature, thanks to a dearth of Pixar releases in 2014 and one of the worst Oscar snubs ever: the fact that “The Lego Movie” was not included in this category.
Katzenberg, the consummate businessman, has made a very shrewd move by releasing the documentary for free on DreamWorks Animation’s awards campaign website (dwaawards.com). As fun as it is to watch Cate Blanchett geek out about dragons, it still saddens me that Katzenberg felt the need to lay off hundreds of workers after the monumental success of “Dragon 2.” That can’t possibly be good for the company.
But even with the shadow of company drama looming over them, the “Dragon” pictures have a sincere warmth to them, and it is because of DeBlois. He is the reason to watch this documentary. Certainly others can do what he does, but his is a spirit few can match.
This film can be found at dwaawards.com/video.
“Where No One Goes: The Making of How to Train Your Dragon 2”
Napper rating = 4/5.