Welcome to The DRAGONS TV recap! A Rotoscopers series in which we will recap and discuss the DreamWorks Dragons television series!
Today, we will be reviewing and recapping Episodes 1 & 2 of Dragons: Race to the Edge (“Dragon Eye of the Beholder”).
(WARNING: This recap/review will contain SPOILERS for Episodes 1 & 2. Do not read if you haven’t watched these episodes yet).
In 2012, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise was met with the addition of a TV show. Landing on Cartoon Network with the subtitle of Riders of Berk, the first season was better than what most would have expected, but it was definitely weighed down by some problems. Riders of Berk was the result of a team of writers and producers who were clearly new to the Dragons universe and were likewise going through all the expected motions. This feeling is expounded by the fact that the animation wasn’t quite there yet (due to network TV constraints).
Defenders of Berk was the result of a team who were not only starting to become more acquainted with the Dragons universe, but were beginning to step up their writing and animation. This resulted in a storyline that was a tad more serialized in addition to the development of the characters being more rounded.
When it came time to carry the series over to a new format (Netflix), the team had (rightfully) chosen to go a new trajectory: taking all they have learned from Riders and Defenders into the new seasons while taking advantage of a slightly-higher budget and flexibility of storytelling granted by a digital television format.
With Dragons: Race to the Edge, executive producers/showrunners Art Brown and Douglas Sloan and their rotating group of writers and directors (as well as their animators) have – dare I say it – outdone themselves. Race to the Edge finally unlocks the true potential of the creative team to deliver on what Riders and Defenders only scratched the surface of. The result is not only a fantastic new chapter in the Dragons saga, but quite possibly one of the best animated shows I’ve seen all year.
New Callings/Old Grudges
One thing I noted right off the bat is that Race to the Edge automatically assumes that you’ve watched Riders and Defenders, as characters, dragons, and events from both seasons are seen and/or mentioned throughout “Dragon Eye of the Beholder” (and indeed throughout the season). While this may come across as an impediment for those who aren’t well-versed in the Dragons mythology, it ultimately becomes one of the biggest strengths of Race to the Edge. That these events are referenced from time to time (like the Speed Stinger attack from Defenders and the Breakneck Bog quest from Riders) strengthens the feeling of overall continuity within the franchise.
Getting back on track, “Dragon Eye of the Beholder” finds Hiccup (clad in a red shirt and scaled armor) and the Dragon Riders (Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, Ruffnut and Tuffnut) in new, interesting positions (almost literally). Three years after Dagur was carried off by a reformed Alvin into the sunset at the end of Defenders, the Riders have now settled into their lives with their dragons. Through a nice, juicy bit of world-building, we find out that they have taken on jobs around Berk. Snotlout is a weapons tester, Ruffnut and Tuffnut have devoted their lives to Loki and the practice of mischief and mayham (leading to some clever references to a certain internet meme), Fishlegs is teaching the children of Berk the history of dragons, and Astrid is joining the Berk Guard (what I assume is a group of warriors charged with defending Berk from outside threats).
Gone are the days where the Riders would fly off at any hour of the day in search of a new dragon. This is the exact dilemma that faces Hiccup, who’s heart still yearns for the adventure and the discovery. That’s hard to do when everyone has moved on and the number of new dragons to be discovered around the archipelago has dried up. Here, we see the sparks of what would become Hiccup’s primary driving force behind his explorations at the beginning of How to Train Your Dragon 2, where he is looking to discover his own identity and place in the world as adulthood looms upon him.
But it doesn’t take long for things to get exciting, as Trader Johann is brought back to Berk with the news that Dagur is out of prison and has Hiccup squarely in his cross-hairs. The situation gets even more urgent when they find out that Johann’s ship (stolen by Dagur) contains a map to a fog bank housing a graveyard of ships, where Johann hides his treasure. Hidden among this graveyard is a ship called the Reaper, but little do they know of what that ship contains…
Later on, Hiccup and the Dragon Riders travel towards to fog bank in an effort to stop Dagur from using Johann’s treasure to build his army back up. This gives Hiccup a good opportunity to test the other Riders on their dragon training (and for Snotlout to be the showoff that he is). When they get there, the Riders split up to look for Dagur, only for their searches to turn up no results.
I don’t think I’ve said this before, so I’ll say it here: Race to the Edge looks flat-out amazing. Of course, there is only so much they can do with a TV budget versus a movie budget, but you can tell that the move to Netflix has benefited them greatly, especially where the visuals and even the brawnier composition of certain camera angles are concerned. The action set-piece that takes place on-board a a graveyard ship that is attacked by eels is a great example (with Astrid’s rescue being one of the more striking visuals of the two-parter). Race to the Edge does a bang-up job of emulating (if not replicating) the visual vocabulary of the films.
The Riders split up once again, only this time Hiccup and Toothless go off to explore the Reaper while the rest of the gang are looking for Johann’s treasure within various ships. Aboard the Reaper, Hiccup and Toothless traverse the boobie-trapped vessel to examine its many strange details (as well as evidence of the ship’s mistreatment of dragons), only to come across a mysterious room that holds an equally mysterious device. After evading all the traps the get activated after grabbing the device, Hiccup and Toothless find the rest of the gang taken hostage by none other than Dagur and his men.
As always, David Faustino remains a knock-out as Dagur the Deranged. His character, by virtue of Faustino’s performance and the way he is animated and designed, is somebody who simply demands your attention. It certainly helps that he is just as unpredictable in his behavior and mannerisms as he was in previous seasons. Under that twisted and cackling veneer lies a strategically intelligent mind, as exemplified when Dagur and his crew run off with the device and shoot a boulder that sinks the Reaper (with the gang locked inside a dragon-proof cage), giving Hiccup a choice between him and his friends.
He and Hiccup also have, probably more than any other villain in the Dragons franchise, one of the best hero/villain relationships in animation. There’s something of a ying/yang interplay between the two, especially seeing how Dagur is very much emboldened (and possibly tortured) by his ‘brotherly’ connection with Hiccup (antagonistic as it is). In the three years between Defenders and Race to the Edge, Dagur has clearly honed in on that connection (to the point of obsession).
Searching for the Key/A New Revelation
But Dagur’s escape isn’t the only thing that happens in “Dragon Eye of the Beholder”. As we move into Part 2, Gobber is trying to crack the device (now called the Dragon Eye) open after Hiccup snatches it back from Dagur. But doing sets off a few contraptions that immobilize Tuffnut and then cause him to have a seizure on the ground (kinda funny). They visit Gothi, the village elder/healer who fixes up Tuffnut, only to realize a familiar symbol on the Dragon Eye. That symbol happens to match a scar on one of her arms. After much convincing (by way of Gobber), Gothi tells the story (by way of Gobber again) about how she and two vikings went to Glacier Island in search of of pure glacier water. That is, until a mysterious dragon attacks them during a whiteout, leaving Gothi as the only survivor. Hiccup uses this as an opportunity to know more about the Dragon Eye and convinces Gothi to go with the Riders to Glacier Island (while Gobber temporarily takes up one of Gothi’s roles as village healer).
Earlier, I talked about how Hiccup is starting to develop an intense drive for discovering more about the world of dragons. In Part 2 of this episode and even in the next episode over, we start to see that passion become something of a character flaw for Hiccup when he puts the gang in a sizable amount of danger as they look for this dragon.
By the way, that dragon in particular is the Snow Wraith. With its Night Fury-esque stealth and its thermal vision, the Snow Wraith and its Riders’ encounters with it provide much of the action in Part 2, as Hiccup and the gang try to find ways of retrieving one of its teeth (a key to unlocking the Dragon Eye).
Once again, I give praise to the animators for stepping it up with the visuals. From the snowstorms on Glacier Island to the fire effects of the dummies going up in flames, They have clearly taken the extra step in making the set-pieces look and feel as epic as they should.
After successfully overwhelming the Snow Wraith, the dragon flies off. In a move that’s characteristically-appropriate yet a tad anti-climatic, Gothi manages to get the tooth that the Riders were looking for (she was beating the Snow Wraith with here stick at one point). They finally have the key to unlock the Dragon Eye, but when they actually unlock it….nothing happens.
The Riders go off to rest, thinking that the mission was all for nothing. Until Hiccup notices a glow from the device. A glow that’s caused by Toothless’ dragon flame. He gets Toothless to use his dragon flame to power it up in full force, causing the Dragon Eye to reveal a map with information leading to the wider world of dragons.
As Hiccup says in the beginning intro: “This changes everything.”
– Ruffnut and Tuffnut: “LOKI’D!” An obvious reference to Tom Hiddleston and a popular villain he plays.
– One of the best things about the writing is, surprisingly, the interaction between the characters and the humor that comes out of that.
– Both Tuffnut and Snotlout run away with some of the best (and funniest) lines in these episodes. This becomes something of a normal occurrence as we move deeper into the season.
– Both Snotlout and Dagur make remarks about how the Thorston twins can’t be told apart from each other.
– Snotlout (to Fishlegs): “When you ate breakfast, you ate everyone’s breakfest.”
– Tuffnut: “We’re gonna live!” *Astrid falls into the ocean* “Most of us are gonna live!”
– Snotlout really enjoys his braids.
– Tuffnut stuffing diamonds in his sister’s mouth so “he can talk.” Classic Tuffnut logic.
– Wait, did those diamonds come out of Tuffnut’s…crotch?
– Snotlout (when the eels attack): “Why did it have to be EELS!”
– Gothi gets to do quite a bit in this episode, which is great.
– Gobber sucks magnificently at being the village healer. Why am I not surprised?
– Snotlout’s reaction to having his dummy set on fire is priceless.
– Tuffnut (to Ruffnut): “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. I hereby disown you!” *less than five seconds later* “Welcome to the family.”
– First reference to How to Train Your Dragon 2 (from Hiccup): “I’ve really got to get my own set of wings.”
Video Recap #1
Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow for the recap/review of Dragons: Race to the Edge episode 3!
What do you think? What are your thoughts on these episodes? If you have seen these episodes, discuss them in the comment section below!
(NOTE: Only spoilers for these episodes can be discussed in the comments. If I see spoilers from other episodes, you will be put on notice).