Actors are usually barraged with numerous talking points by publicists and studio executives to convey their “true love” for their latest projects.Â Most of the time, it’s easy to see through that charade when it’s clearly not the case.Â In fact, there have been stars in great movies where it was obvious even they weren’t as enthusiastic as the critics were.Â Speaking to Jay Baruchel about his new DreamWorks Animation epic “How To Train Your Dragon” it was clear the 28-year-old Canadian is not in that camp.Â He simply adores his latest project.
“I knew it would be pretty looking, but I didn’t realize how incredibly the action sequences would be,” Baruchel says during a phone interview last week.Â “It was like I had an idea of the best case scenario of it how it would turn out and it was that times a million.”
In fact, even just viewing a non-completed version of the film (85% animated), Baruchel had an incredible emotional reaction admitting, “I was still blown away and it kind of reduced me to tears.”
Baruchel later remarked, “I’ve done some pretty amazing movies. I’ve gotten to do some pretty awesome things. This one, I dunno, I am incredibly proud of the work I have done. This one for a combination [of reasons] it really really really hit me.”
“Dragon” is an original story that centers on Hiccup (Baruchel), a seemingly physically unimpressive young Viking who is having some issues living up to the accomplishments of his father (Gerard Butler), the greatest dragon slayer in the village.Â Instead, he impresses with his mechanical gizmos he’s created working for Gobber (a very funny Craig Ferguson).Â Unfortunately, as hard as he tries, he’s still considered a joke as a warrior.Â When he builds a device to capture one of the most notorious attack dragons, he discovers they might not be the monsters everyone has been led to believe.Â It’s a beautifully rendered 3-D adventure, but it’s also incredibly touching.Â It doesn’t hurt that the directors are Dean DeBois and Chris Sanders who were received Oscar nominations for helming “Lilo & Stitch,” arguably the last great hand drawn animation from Walt Disney Studios.
From a critic’s perspective, “Dragon” may be the best animated feature DreamWorks has made so far and stands right alongside some of the great animated films nominated for Oscar last year such as “Up,” “Coraline” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”Â It’s not the “just for kiddies” flick some of the TV spots make it out to be and it will absolutely be an Academy Award contender for Best Animated Feature in 2011.
As for how Baruchel got involved in the project, DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg and producer Bonnie Arnold actually recruited him while he was shooting “Tropic Thunder” in Hawaii, long before DeBoi and Sanders had even came on board.Â In fact, the first incarnation before their involvement skewed a bit younger.Â Baruchel reveals he was doing a kids’ voice for Hiccup and everything “was a bit cutsier, it didn’t have the darkness that the new one has at all.”Â It turns out the two directors re-worked the screenplay a good deal including putting Hiccup in Gobber’s blacksmith shop and having him design weapons in his spare time which became a key plot point.Â Baruchel adds, “They kind of aged everything up and gave it a kind of gravitas.”
As is becoming more common place in animated features these days, Baruchel recorded a number of times with co-stars Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill and Craig Ferguson present, but a majority of it was alone in a studio just 10 minutes from his Montreal home.Â Â After breaking out in Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up,” Baruchel has become increasingly more at home in Hollywood movies, but won’t move to the states from his native Quebec.Â And with roles in commercial films such as last week’sÂ disappointing “She’s Out of My League” and the family friendly “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” this summer, this writer was curious if Baruchel will continue to mix in the more unconventional roles that have been sprinkled throughout his surprisingly long career.
“I’ve been doing that the whole time. The whole time I’ve had a career in the states where I’ve gotten to make some fairly big budget movies, I’ve been making independent movies in Canada,” Baruchel says. “The movie I just finished making last month is a very, very dark, hard R. It features the most brutal death scene to come out in movies [in some time].”
But, as you’d expect, that doesn’t mean Baruchel wouldn’t like returning to the world of his beloved “Dragon.”
“In a heartbeat I’d love to do it again,” Baruchel says before the question is even completed.Â “Not every movie needs to be a franchise, but this movie honestly lends itselfÂ to that.Â At the end, that’s just when the paradigm shift has happened.Â When it is ended I was like, ‘No, no, no there so much more!'”
“How To Train Your Dragon” opens nationwide in 3-D and IMAX 3-D on Friday.
[Watch some select clips from “Dragon” below to discover what the hype is all about.]