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The trickiest part about bringing How to Train Your Dragon to the modern day was the cellphones

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The showrunner of Dragons: The Nine Realms on updating what makes the franchise special

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a blonde boy, a dark-haired girl, and three dragon faces looking down at something Image: DreamWorks

In the new How to Train Your Dragon show, the human characters aren’t seasoned viking warriors, but modern teenagers. And yes, that means they use cellphones and computers and have access to the internet. Showrunner John Tellegen says that actually one of the biggest challenges with the modern day setting was balancing the marvels of technology with the majesty of dragons proved to be a bit of a challenge.

“As much as modern day kids are on their devices quite a bit, we didn’t want to lose what makes dragons feel so grounded by putting too much tech into it,” he tells Polygon. “My instinct was always to lean away from the tech.”

Dragons: The Nine Realms takes place 1,300 years after the end of the original series. (“Even though the show takes place 1,300 years in the future,” adds Tellegen, “it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to find some surprises from the past.”) After a fissure in the Earth’s crust opens, restless teenager Tom and his mom travel to the fault’s research center. Curious about all the possible discoveries, Tom accidentally stumbles upon the Hidden World, the underground cavern where the dragons retreated after the end of the movie trilogy. He befriends a curious black-and-white dragon, and eventually introduces his new friends to them too. The modern setting doesn’t just allow the characters to use drones, cellphones, and computers; it also introduces new themes — ones that may be more relatable.

tom and jun riding on Thunder Image: DreamWorks

“One of the benefits of moving into the modern times is it allows us to play on themes that are more current, like climate change and animal rights. Things that are important to our modern day audience that the Vikings might not have cared so much about,” says Tellegen. “But our modern day kids do.”

Unlike the characters in the original movie and show, the modern day kids in Dragons: The Nine Realms are a more diverse bunch. It’s definitely more of an ensemble show than anything in the originals, which were ultimately focused on Hiccup and Toothless. But now, there is a different kid and a different dragon — with different cool powers — to match. For instance, shy computer hacker Alex gets paired with a dragon who can turn invisible, while fearless Tom ends up bonding with Toothless’ descendant who can shoot lightning bolts.

As Tellegen says, while the dragons and kids evolved together, the focus was always on creating a wide and diverse roster of human characters, who all shared one very specific thing.

“They were all kids who hadn’t necessarily had a place to call home. D’Angelo is an Army brat, who traveled around with his family and Tom and his mother had been adventuring around the globe,” explains Tellegen. “The idea of bringing all of these characters from different walks of life together and having them find a family and find home at this place was a big part of the development of the human characters.”

Dragons: The Nine Realms is streaming on Peacock and Hulu now.