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Jay Baruchel has trained the dragon, now he's letting go with 'The Hidden World'


TORONTO — The first time actor Jay Baruchel stepped into a recording booth to voice a young Viking named Hiccup for "How to Train Your Dragon," it was summer 2007 and his career was skyrocketing.

"Knocked Up" had hit theatres around that time, with Baruchel playing one of the slacker friends to Seth Rogen's character, and the now-engaged Montreal-raised comedy star was in a different phase of life — just hitting his stride on the big screen, not yet the writer-director-author he is now.

"Nowhere close to the virile alpha male sat before you," Baruchel, 36, said jokingly in a recent interview in Toronto, where he lives.

Hiccup, too, was much different — still a teen, still learning to train fire-breathing creatures.

Two dragon sequels and franchise TV series later, both Baruchel and Hiccup are now at the end of their coming-of-age journey together, with Friday's release of "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World."

The final instalment in the Oscar-nominated animated film trilogy finds Hiccup as a young adult, contemplating his future and finding a new home for his dragon, Toothless, and the rest of the pack, which includes new female friend.

"It's inherently kind of melancholy," Baruchel said of the conclusion to a huge chapter of his life. 

"I haven't quite processed it, to be honest. I know that I'm proud of being part of it, I'm proud of what we've done, and I'm especially proud of this movie. But it's definitely a little sad."

Yet he and Canadian writer-director Dean DeBlois, who also did the first two films, weren't sentimental about wrapping it up. It must be the Canuck in them, they joked.

"There was absolutely zero fanfare on our last session," Baruchel said with a laugh, sitting beside DeBlois, who hails from Aylmer, Que.

"I don't know if either of us had clocked that it wasn't the last session, and even if we had, neither of us wants to make a big fuss. So we finished and I was like, 'Oh, it that it? Yeah, I think that's it. Holy smokes. Twelve years, eh? Yeah, that's crazy.'

"Everyone has asked me, 'So what was the last session like? Were you crying?' I was like, 'No, for God's sakes. We didn't wear Hawaiian shirts to work or something.' It was very 'Just the facts, ma'am.'"

The two are matter-of-fact about the saga ending because they've always known how it would wrap up, they said.

The trilogy is loosely based on the book series by Cressida Cowell and DeBlois said his goal has always been to make the ending reflect on the opening words of the first volume: "There were dragons when I was a boy."

"It suggests they're gone, it suggests he's much older and there was some kind of transformation from this kid to this old man reflecting back on his youth," said DeBlois, who got Oscar nominations for best animated feature for the first two dragon films.

"How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" includes many of the same voice cast from the previous films, except for T.J. Miller, who was replaced by Justin Rupple as twin Tuffnut.

DeBlois, who co-directed the first dragon film with Chris Sanders, said the look of the Hidden World was inspired by a dream he had of a volcano under a body of water much like Niagara Falls.

"The Hidden World is Buffalo," Baruchel jested.

The story touches on themes including accepting change, personal transformation and the extinction of creatures on Earth.

It's an emotional farewell that might have audiences tearing up, which was DeBlois' intention.

"That's a measure of success for me, this time around," he said with a laugh. "Like, I actually had it as a goal: 'I really want to make the audience cry.'

"I was determined to be as truthful to that kind of story motif as possible, the one where you have a bittersweet parting of friends — because I think it's true to life and it applies to young and old and really amplifies the theme of the movie, which is learning to let go."

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

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