** This is user-submitted post by Brandon Smith**
Cartoons today are rather odd. I don’t mean just flat-out weird in the way shows like Adventure Time and Regular Show are (neither of which are my cup of tea). I mean weird in the sense that more and more adults are taking a shine to animated shows normally targeted at kids. Many years ago, if you were a grown-up, the general mindset was that you’ve grown out of cartoons. That what we all loved to watch on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons was simply “kid’s stuff.”
Now, with the emergence of social media and with it the rise of fandom culture, this seems to be less the case now. Due to the runaway success of Adventure Time and Regular Show, in addition to shows such as My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Gravity Falls, Avatar: The Last Airbender (and it’s sequel, Legend of Korra), and countless others, it seems that the TV animation industry is catching on to the idea that a supposed “kid’s show” can have that broader appeal for people who aren’t necessarily the target audience. I myself have found cartoons today that I’ve liked, but never really fell in love with. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Tron: Legacy, and Beware The Batman are shows that I really like and still enjoy on a consistent basis. But there’s one show on Cartoon Network that has me completely head-over-heels. That show in question being DreamWorks Dragons.
Based on the hugely-successful 2010 DreamWorks movie How To Train Your Dragon, the show serves as a bridge between that and next year’s How To Train Your Dragon 2. After the events of the first film, dragons, after seven centuries of war with the vikings on Berk, now live in harmony together thanks to the brave actions of Hiccup, a young teenage viking who was the first to tame (and of course train) a dragon, a night fury named Toothless. But not everyone agrees with this unison. And as Hiccup quickly finds out, Berk still has a ways to go before dragons and humans can fully co-exist with each other. As the head of the newly-erected Dragon Training Academy, he and the other teen vikings fight to resolve the rising tensions and societal issues of this new co-habitation while dealing with the arrival of new threats, new dragons (not all of which can be trained), and new worlds to discover.
Now the TV show’s name and subsequent changes are a bit confusing, so let me explain. Originally, the series was announced as Dragons: The Series, but once promotional items started appearing in the name was changed to Dragons: Riders of Berk. But when the second season came around, the new subtitle–Defenders of Berk–appeared, replacing Riders of Berk. So now the series is officially called DreamWorks Dragons, but each season has a different subtitle. Each season is broke into two parts, making it seem that each season has two seasons! Talk about confusing!
So why am I in love with this show? To get the basics out of the way, I was a big fan of the movie, which was the first DreamWorks movie I wholeheartedly loved aside from Kung-Fu Panda 1 and 2. So I already had an interest in the TV show but become even more interested after hearing positive reception. By the time I was halfway through the first season and the Dragons 2 trailer came out…well, let’s just say I was fully invested in this world and couldn’t wait for season two. As it’s simply one of the best-written and best-looking CG cartoon shows out there.
Animation-wise, the CG goes above and beyond anything else out there right now. While there are certain points where the quality drops off a little bit (unsuprisingly, since they’re working with a TV budget and not as wide a window of time as their movie counterpart). But as the season rolls along, it improves massively. Almost to the point where the animation is almost film-like: the dragons swoop and soar with immense power and spectacle, the movements of the characters are unbelievably fluid, and even right down to the hair and clothing, which move independently of the characters in a realistic manner. The action scenes are also a highlight, as the animators get to flex their muscles with a variety of different set-pieces (these strengths shines even brighter on Defenders).
It’s also strong on the writing front, as it does a bang-up job advancing the characters and storylines in a consistent manner. Peppered throughout the show are very subtle throwbacks to the first film, references to the books (Alvin the Treacherous is one of the primary villains here), and surprisingly intense moments that would normally be danced around in other cartoon shows. But it’s the characterization where the show shines brightest. Dagur the Deranged, a villain who’s been in three or so episodes of the show so far, is the chief of the Berserker tribe and a warmongering psychopath. He’s quite honestly one of the best cartoon villains in recent memory. Big applause to the writers for giving him a fully developed personality in few episodes than what others manage in a whole season.
But one of the main reasons why I want more people young and old to watch this show is that it deftly avoids and/or subverts many elements that are common even in cartoons today.
For instance, there’s no villain-of-the-week structure. There’s a fantastic balance between drama and humor, standalone and serialized episodes that’s rare. And because it’s TV-PG, it’s not afraid to have it’s characters say “kill” or slip in a near-curse word every now and then. It doesn’t hurt either that unlike other DreamWorks shows, this actually has some of it’s movie cast intact. Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and T.J. Miller reprise their respective roles from the film, further adding to the feel of a consistent continuity between the show and the films.
So whether you happen to be a Dragons fan or not, I absolutely recommend this show. It pleases fans looking for a fantastic way to bide their time until the second movie, yet will no doubt satisfy those that want just a really well-written, entertaining cartoon to watch no matter how old you are.
For those who want to catch up to the current season 2, the first season Riders Of Berk is now on DVD in two parts. Most, if not all digital shows should have a season pass for Defenders.