In the How to Train Your Dragon films, Craig Ferguson voices Gobber the Belch, Hiccup’s Viking mentor and a comic sidekick whose early belligerent encounters with dragons cost him an arm and a leg. Stomping around on his peg-leg and wielding a variety of interchangeable tools as arm prostheses, Gobber is more useful in the armory forging weapons than he is in the fight. But he’s brave and loyal and enjoys a place of distinction and respect in the community of Berk. So why hasn’t he married?
In the new sequel, which reunites Hiccup’s parents, Gobber lets slip that settling down with a good woman was never in the cards for him. As Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler) has his first little quarrel with Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), Gobber mutters, “This is why I never married. This and one other reason.”
When Dragon 2 premiered at Cannes last month, audiences raised an eyebrow at the remark. Had battling dragons cost Gobber an appendage even more important than his arm and leg? Or… is Gobber gay?
It’s the latter. Ferguson ad-libbed the second part of the line, and director Dean DeBlois chose to keep it in. “The nice thing that Craig brought to it is, it’s such a hand-off line that I think for the older members of the audience, it’ll take them a moment to realize, like, ‘Did he just say what I think he said?'” says DeBlois. “And then you’re moving on. [The movie] treats it like normalcy, and that’s what I really like about it. Because I’m a gay man, and I don’t draw attention to myself for that reason. It’s just a fact of who I am, and the way the world is, and it’s nice to treat it as just a passing notion that isn’t something that people have to get so up in arms about. I think it makes people chuckle, and in every test screening we’ve had, it’s always gone over really well. I know there are probably a few people whose feathers it will ruffle, but you can’t worry too much about that. Particularly in 2014. It’s so prevalent out there, in TV shows and movies. It’s the norm, as it should be. I’m proud of it. It contributes to the daring and progressive quality of the storytelling of this [planned] trilogy.”
Gobber isn’t the first gay character in a mainstream animated movie; Mitch (Casey Affleck) was a gay dumb jock in 2012’s ParaNorman. Some social conservatives had a problem with Mitch, but thus far, there’s been an encouraging lack of feather-ruffling about the Gobber revelation in Dragons 2, which is being distributed by Fox.
So now that Gobber is officially out, might he get a fulfilling relationship in the third film? “I haven’t really mapped out all the details going forward,” says DeBlois. “I’m not quite sure. I think people get a little nervous about the idea that it’s suddenly going to become really graphic and a tangent. It’s never going to be that.”