Wondering if the new series by the creators of Avatar: The Last Air Bender is worth checking out? Andee Dee has got you covered in his review of the new Netflix Series The Dragon Prince.
Like a family-friendly mashup of Dragon Age, Avatar and Game of Thrones, Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond’s The Dragon Prince is a wonderfully-gripping nine-part series. This new series completely crept up on me, but had its claws in me from start to finish (well, two sittings at least). The Dragon Prince features a cast of reliably charming rogues and unlikely protagonists in the familiar Avatar fashion. There are some compelling (and downright hilarious) antagonists – I hesitate to use the word “villains”, because, as with all shows such as this, they are smothered in shades of grey. The show maintains the same dry, quirky charm of Avatar, but with some deliciously dark gallows humour, and some brilliantly bickery back-and-forth between the main cast.
The plot revolves around a world separated into familiar elemental forces tied in with the eponymous Dragons, the use of dark magic is a major no-no, and humans and elves are currently at odds. Initially a mystery the conflicts origins become clear in the opening episodes, but for fear of early spoilers, I shan’t go into them here. Needless to, say the driving force of our three (four, sorry Bait!) heroes’ journey is a finely-balanced combination of yer classic get-the-MacGuffin-from-A-to-B setup, not one but two ticking clocks, and some corrupt monarchical machinations behind closed portcullises who don’t have our heroes’ best interests at heart. It’s very reminiscent of a certain Mister Martin’s works but without all the grim gore and gratuitous gonads. Most kids should be at ease here, but do beware that it’s PG-rated; goofy, broad humour aside, some of the later episodes might be a tad too dark for the tinier tots.
It makes for a very brisk, somewhat breathless pace that feels a little under-served in its sub-four hour runtime (indeed there are certain characters who pop in during the middle third of the show who I’d like to have seen more of) but by the end will certainly leave you eager for more. The bravely-titled “Book 1” is naturally part of a greater epic narrative but is an excellent chunk of story, lore, and character establishment in its own right.
The animation is an interesting approach which might initially take a bit of getting used to. In a nutshell it’s CG/cel-shaded but appears to be hand-animated frame-by-frame rather than a constant 24/48 fps like most CG-animated shows, and as such it maintains a hand-drawn, kinetic feel reminiscent of anime, but the CG textures allow for some vivid, detailed character designs, and while the slower, talky scenes sometimes look a bit laggy, the action scenes are where the animation truly comes alive. The choreography in the fight scenes is truly spectacular, but would you expect anything less from the fine folk behind our airbending buddies?
If I had one slight niggle (and it’s a very minor one), is that while they’re mostly on form, some of the voice performers feel a little flat. As I’ve mentioned, the humour in this show is very dry and sarcastic, and while Jack DeSena had perfect comic timing as Sokka, here as Callum it sometimes feels ever so slightly off in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on. Likewise, Paula Burrows has the somewhat thankless task of voicing the stoic, stern-faced Elven assassin Rayla. Her initial dour constitution is a little grating at first but as the series progresses she’s given the chance to lighten up and delivers a brilliantly glib Gaelic wit. Rounding out our human(oid) trio, Sasha Rojen has plenty of vim and energy as the relentlessly chipper and optimistic Ezran, Callum’s critter-loving half-brother.
I truly think we’re still riding a high wave of original animation, and what with Adventure Time finally drawing to a close, and Voltron: Legendary Defender‘s imminent demise, The Dragon Prince is a very welcome life preserver, at least until Netflix’s She Ra and the Princesses of Power drops in November. I’m really looking forward to seeing where they go with it.
Andee Dee is our go-to writer for modern animation and quirky fun. A surprisingly quiet and reserved chap, we once forgot he was there and locked him the WGN building over the weekend. When we returned on Monday he had built a lean-to in the break room and had used all the printer ink to adorn his body with “war paint.” We still occasionally find makeshift weapons squirrelled away in the building. No one is sure what happened to the office cat, and frankly – we’re afraid to ask.