This year’s Academy Award-Winner for Best Actress, Cate Blanchett, joins the family of Vikings and dragons in “How To Train Your Dragon 2.”
Playing opposite the voices of the returning cast along with Gerard Butler, Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and Jonah Hill, Blanchett lends voice to Valka, the long-lost mother of Hiccup. Upon meeting her, Hiccup and dad Stoick (Butler) find out that she has been living with and protecting the dragons in a hidden haven.
All grown up, as Hiccup searches for answers and gets deeper into the mystery of dragons surfacing and missing, it’s not long before he and Toothless come face-to-face with the dragon rider, who turns out to be someone Hiccup thought he would never meet: his mother. Taken by a dragon when Hiccup was just a baby, she’s been missing for 20 years and presumed dead by the villagers of Berk.
In “How To Train Your Dragon 2,” Valka is a dragon-whisperer who is accomplished in the ways of dragons and knows secrets about them that Hiccup hasn’t even discovered yet. Residing in Dragon Mountain, an epic ice formation with an amazing tropical oasis microclimate nestled inside in its core, “She’s been living like Dian Fossey with thousands of dragons all this time, learning their ways and becoming their fierce protector,” director DeBlois says. It’s a big moment in the film when Valka reveals to Hiccup the place she calls home.
The questions Hiccup has for his mother! Meeting her is like finding an elusive, missing piece to a puzzle as he soon realizes how similar he is to Valka. “Hiccup knows that he’s not a carbon copy of his father and feels a little uncomfortable knowing that there’s this other part of his soul that pines for something more, that is most comfortable when he’s out there with his dragon, searching for a purpose,” DeBlois continues. “So meeting his mother and knowing that she has this great purpose to her life is deeply meaningful for Hiccup, because he feels, in that moment, that he’s found the missing half of his soul. He finally knows who he is.”
The only challenge is that Valka and Hiccup have differing philosophies about human interaction with dragons. Valka doesn’t believe co-existence is possible because “she’s seen too much of the evil ways of humans,” according to DeBlois. She thinks the only way to keep dragons safe is to hide them from humans. Hiccup, on the other hand, knows co-existence is possible not only because he has experienced it first-hand but also because he knows he can change minds and bring peace. That becomes the issue that they have to resolve, and ultimately it is Valka’s arc in the story.
From the moment he conceived Valka as a character, DeBlois knew whom he wanted for the part: Oscar®-winning actress Cate Blanchett. “I wrote the character with Cate in mind, not knowing whether she’d be interested at all,” DeBlois says. “I just thought she was a perfect model. She has played characters in the past that have such a fiery strength and command to them.
“And then, when we were at the Academy Awards the year we were nominated for ‘Dragon,’ I spotted Cate mixing with people before the ceremony. I walked over and introduced myself. I told her, “I wrote a part for you in How To Train Your Dragon 2, whether or not you’re interested,” DeBlois laughs. “She wanted to know more on the spot. So I told her a little bit about the character. She said, ‘Well, listen. My boys are huge fans of the first movie and we watch it a lot at our home and I’m not doing anything at the moment. Please send me the script.’”
There’s an inevitable moment in “How To Train Your Dragon 2” when Stoick and Valka are reunited after two decades. To fully appreciate the significance of the occasion, the filmmakers set out to make the scene a poignant one. After all, it isn’t every day one encounters a loved one who has been presumed dead for 20 years.
“The scene where Stoick sees Valka for the first time is virtually unchanged from the first script,” DeBlois says. “It has remained very pure: We wanted Stoick to be wordless — to be struck as though he’s seeing a ghost — when he runs into her. Valka, meanwhile, has all this defensive babble to get out of the way because she knows that she made the wrong decision by not returning to her family and she’s trying to justify it but she’s just making herself fall apart. The whole time he’s steadily approaching as though he can’t believe what he’s seeing. It ends in this beautiful single phrase from Stoick and a kiss and we let the audience know that all’s been forgotten and forgiven as far as he’s concerned. I love the idea we suggest — that Valka was Stoick’s only love and that he never had any other interest.”
“Stoick had resigned himself to life without Valka, and then suddenly, she’s there,” says Butler. “For him, it’s a change at something that he never thought would be possible anymore, to have his wife back, to have a mother for Hiccup and to be a family again. It’s romantic, exhilarating and heartbreaking. He’s a young man all over again, and he’s so happy.”
For Hiccup, too, seeing his parents together for the first time is momentous. In both of them he sees fiery, powerful, headstrong personalities — and finds his identity in understanding both of them. “We saw this as an opportunity to bring together a family that had been seemingly torn apart forever and to really feel that Hiccup’s life had become complete before thrusting him into a new chapter of his life,” concludes DeBlois.
“How To Train Your Dragon 2” opens June 11 in cinemas (2D and 3D) from DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.