Ross Lincoln contributes to Deadline’s Comic-Con coverage

Cate Blanchett, Kit Harington and Djimon Hounsou have joined the voice cast of How To Train Your Dragon 2, it was announced minutes ago during the DreamWorks Animation panel on the first official day of Comic-Con. Blanchett will play a character named Valka, a vigilante warrior devoted to rescuing dragons from enslavement. Hounsou will play Drago Bludvfist, a “maniacal” villain bent on capturing and enslaving the world’s dragons. Harington, who plays Jon Snow on the now-Emmy-nominated HBO series Game Of Thrones, will make his voice-acting debut as Bludvfist’s lieutenant Dragon Prince, the self-described “greatest dragon trapper in the world”; this will be Harington’s first time voice-acting. The announcements were made near the end of the panel, which was largely devoted to clips from and discussion of DreamWorks Animation’s just-released Turbo, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and the second installment of the Dragon franchise; a third installment already has staked on a June 26 release date. Turbo director David Soren, Mr. Peabody director Rob Minkoff, and Dragon 2 helmer Dean DeBlois attended the panel, joined by DWA co-president of production Bill Damaschke.

Although Turbo was released yesterday to lukewarm response, audience reaction during the panel was positive. This continued with the response to a clip from Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which despite being based on characters nearly 50 years old saw every joke land strongly — and huge applause at the end. Two clips from How To Train Your Dragon 2 were shown, both of which received enormous response, including a few who stood and applauded when the second clip ended.

In addition to the Dragon 2 casting news, it was also announced that Sigur Rós lead vocalist Jón Þór Birgisson will contribute three new compositions to the soundtrack, including direct collaborations with composer John Powell, who in 2011 earned an Oscar nom for the score to the original film.

Aside from the Dragon-related announcements, the most interesting outcome of the panel was the overwhelmingly positive response given to Mr. Peabody & Sherman, an updated take on the unflappable time-traveling dog and his pet human from The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show. The clip shown during the panel saw every joke land strongly, and it received loud applause after it ended. This might be a good sign for a film based on a cartoon that first aired during Eisenhower administration.

The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show, which ran from 1959 to 1965, is an important cultural touchstone of the 1960s, but while the Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocky J. Squirrel characters have widespread recognition, Mr. Peabody and Sherman have long been somewhat more obscure. Aside from reruns of the 1960s cartoon, the two characters have appeared largely as pop culture as in-jokes, particularly in episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy.

There’s also the fact that the last attempt to bring characters from The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show, The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle, was a flop, grossing $35 million on budget of $76 million. That film remained somewhat true to the cartoon’s ironic comedic tone, a possible contributing factor to its failure, which may explain why Mr. Peabody & Sherman has a slight but significant change to the original premise. This film has Mr. Peabody as Sherman’s adopted father, rather than his owner, suggesting a far more family-oriented plot than the irony-laden humor of the original cartoon or the reference-heavy 2000 film.

At the same time, Minkoff made it clear he is devoted to preserving the spirit of the characters’ creator, Jay Ward. He cited his professional relationship with Ward’s daughter Tiffany, “getting to meet someone who touched you as a child,” as a profound aspect of his film, and praised her for being a “strong defender” of her father’s legacy. Whether the final film successfully balances the tensions between that legacy and the tastes of modern audiences remains to be seen.