DreamWorks Dragons: Race to Dragon’s Edge Enters a New Frontier, A Review

27 Jun

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Hiccup and his gang of Dragon Riders are back in DreamWorks’ Dragons: Race to the Edge. Thirteen episodes of a 26 episode season run are now out and there will be 52 in total that Netflix has ordered. What’s presented is filling in the space left from the last season leading up to the second film. Some favourites from the past two seasons even return and I was firmly engrossed by episode five to keep on watching them all in one sitting.

Dagur the Deranged (David Faustino) gets more importance in the series  after escaping from his prison. He swears that he will get his revenge on Hiccup (Jay Baruchel). The war with the Outcasts and Berserkers is over, and while peace seems to reign, more trouble is brewing. When the young stewards of Berk locate a boat containing treasures from foreign lands and find a mysterious Dragons Eye (a slide projector with kaleidoscope capabilities to cast and merge images out of a tube when properly illuminated), only adventure beckons the leader of the group. Hiccup wants to discover what secrets this cylinder has in its encoded messages. Some of it suggests answers to the origins of dragons and others unveils a bigger world for him to explore.

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When considering there’s about two years worth of story to tell before How to Train Your Dragon 2 (three years has passed in this universe), the only limitation the producers of this television product has is in how they will ease viewers into the canon developed by movie producer Dean DeBlois. So far, they are doing a reasonable job without being overt in explaining the origins of most of Hiccup’s new gadgets from the second movie. The ideas come out of necessity because of the dangers Hiccup could face. 

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However, one instance of continuity seems out-of-place. Unless the writers have plans to destroy the outpost Hiccup, Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, Ruffnut and Tuffnut has built, the little fort named Dragon’s Edge will eventually get abandoned. This premise has a bit of flavour taken from Star Trek Deep Space Nine, where a new base of operations is needed to allow for further exploration deeper into the oceans North of Europa (as that was the name back in the Early Middle Ages), if a larger continent exists at all. 

Berk is almost written out of this season in favour for a tighter narrative that focuses on the merry teens. They have graduated from dragon training school and are now headed to college. Their encounters with Trader Yohann is more frequent, and to see Heather return is perhaps the best part of this season. To see what has become of her in the episodes “Have Dragon Will Travel Part 1 and 2” is important and she plays a pivotal role in this series.

The standout episode is with “Gone Gustav Gone,” where the young wannabe dragon rider finally proves himself to the older and experienced team. 

Even Tuffnut and Ruffnut get better treatment as characters worth noting than laughing about. Instead of them always providing the comedy relief or being the clowns of the series, there are moments where they shine with some wonderful bits of dialogue that show their intelligence and vocabulary is not limited. Just where did they learn this knowledge does require a suspension of disbelief as higher learning was limited and exclusive to royalty during the Viking age.

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While the animation quality from production house CGCG Inc seems to have dropped, hopefully what was rushed to completion in the first two episodes, “Dragon Eye of the Beholder,” is not jarring. They are also known for being the rendering farm for Star Wars: Rebels. Hopefully their work is not being spread thin such that some sacrifices to finish a product is being made. Some of the natural fluidity in the animation of human movement is lost and it’s noticeable. The detailing is the same as before, prior to Netflix acquiring Dragons, but a bit of the styling of the world looks different. It’s like the village of Berk has gotten noticeably smaller. Canadian-based Bardel Entertainment (who handled All Hail King Julien and The Adventures of Puss in Boots) did a better job of maintaining the detail in the renders of their anthropomorphic characters.

Production problems aside, at least the writing has improved. Hiccup is no longer obsessed with training every wild dragon he sees and that did get redundant in the first two seasons. His new obsession in exploring the world takes precedence and that makes for a better driving force to carry the series forward. When He finds his companions have moved on, this new journey may well be a lonely one. As the first episode reveals, Astrid joined the honour guard. The rest have settled in their new roles in the village: Fishlegs is an educator, Snotlout is a guinea pig (technically, works at the armoury testing equipment) and the Twins are dedicated to becoming the ultimate pranksters. Curiously, they are able to drop all that to join Hiccup. Some story could have been made to detail how they get out of their obligations before leaving Berk. I would have liked to see how the gang explained themselves to the village elders, especially Astrid and Fishlegs, in explaining why they must follow Hiccup. I can see Gobber easily letting Snotlout go and nobody is going to miss Ruffnut and Tuffnut, since they are mostly troublemakers. The first two episodes just felt rushed, and the narrative did not find its flow until three more episodes in. 

The saga that’s being established is worth watching time and time again, but I don’t like the idea of going online to watch it. hopefully a video release will be offered down the road. I don’t expect any video extras to be included but to find out how much muscle Netflix has over this property will be worth monitoring. Fans don’t need to watch DreamWorks’ Dragons to get their How to Train Your Dragon fix, but when the film won’t be appearing for another two years or so, the monopoly is being owned by this streaming video service.  I like to own a physical copy of this series so I’m not eating up my bandwidth quota when the craving to see the TV program hits. Not everyone is blessed with unlimited data unless they are willing to pay massive dollars for it and unless ISPs in Canada lift this restriction, I’ll settle for owning hard copies of my favourite television programs and films than to find it in the cloud. I’m sure Toothless will approve.

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