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"Dragons: Fire & Ice" Turns Out Lukewarm

The most common criticism levied at 80s cartoons is that they are little more than glorified toy commercials. I often bristle at this label, especially when applied to favorites like G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K., which I feel rise well above it. Dragons: Fire & Ice is the latest production in this longstanding tradition of toy promotion, and more or less does it proud.

Dragons: Fire & IceThe toy in question this time around is from the Mega Bloks line, which I assume to be one of those Lego knockoffs. I have no idea what the toys themselves look like, but to judge from the movie it’s a variety of dragons with a few human warriors. It seems surprising that such a relatively minor line would spawn a DTV movie, but perhaps that reflects the increasing affordability of these things. After all, someone decided to cast Barbie in the Prince and the Pauper, so I suppose all bets are off.

The story takes place on a barren rocky planet inhabited by two warring clans of humans who both blame the other for banishing their beloved dragons to another dimension. It seems that dragons are regarded with divine reverence, perhaps like cows in India, and there exists a prophecy that they will not return until true peace is achieved. The Norvagen and the Draigar clans are ruled by leaders who are honorable and wise but resigned to the inevitability of conflict. Their respective offspring Dev and Kyra remain much more optimistic about peace, and desperately seek to bring about the dragons’ return. One day, during a massive confrontation between the two sides, the portal opens and a mysterious dragon bestows on Dev and Kyra the powers of wind and fire respectively. Later Dev and Kyra are recruited by the wizard Xenoz to retrieve a crystal from the allegedly evil dragon Thoron that will enable him to restore the peace and bring back the dragons. They learn from Thoron, however, that it is in fact Xenoz whose true motives are less than altruistic and they band together to try to thwart his sinister designs.

There is nothing exceptionally original about the proceedings, but the dragon’s back-story gives it just enough depth to maintain interest. The film is predictably heavy on action scenes, and most of these are carried off with a reasonable amount of style. Interestingly, the film isn’t shy about explicit violence. Although we never clearly see any humans buy the farm, the very humanoid goblins meet all sorts of nasty fates, and Xenos is revealed to be in desperate need of cosmetic surgery.

The characterization deals strictly in tried and true archetypes in the Disney vein: venerable but myopic leaders, brash and heroic youths, haughty and double-dealing villain, and noble animals. Nothing really stands out, other than that I find it curious that strength in animated female characters continues to be equated with a certain degree of obnoxiousness. I don’t think annoying smack talk is the best way to establish them as equals to their male counterparts. Anyway, voice acting is quite good all around for a DTV production.

Dragons: Fire & IceDragons is 100% CG animated, as seems to be the trend for toy DTV releases these days – Barbie, G.I. Joe, Care Bears, etc. Although I still strongly prefer cel animation, I must admit I’m much more open to CG these days. However, this isn’t a particularly impressive example. Generally the animation is on par with PS2 cut scenes. It gets the job done, but it’s pretty dull and clumsy looking. It’s further hampered by extremely drab backgrounds. On the upside, some of the action scenes do create some exciting imagery. The strongest sequence is probably Thoron’s battle with a horde of ice dragons, in which his assailants are shattered in a variety of creative ways, sending fragments flying past the camera. Character design is thankfully much better than the backgrounds. The dragons and goblins are a bit generic, but the humans have a distinctive look and their armor is quite detailed. Kyra does suffer a bit in the looks department though. She is somewhat alarmingly anorexic, and her face is literally a triangle with beady eyes that is usually fixed in a scowl.

Still, what you really want to know is whether I was compelled to run out and pick up some Mega Bloks, right? Actually, although this project must surely have been financed with the hope of promoting the toys, to its credit there is no blatant marketing in the film. Typically in these things you get a lengthy procession of largely irrelevant characters all given grand introductions to acquaint kids with the toys. Dragons only has a handful of characters though, all integral to the plot. The only thing that really made me think about toys at all was the crystal that fit in each dragon’s chest, which one imagines might flash or glow in the dark.

Special features are, to be fair, nonexistent. Not surprising for this sort of cheap production, but disappointing since as an animation fan I’m always interested in how all the images were put together, particularly on a tight budget.

It’s hard to make a compelling case for Dragons: Fire & Ice. It’s well done and relatively entertaining for a cheap DTV movie, but nevertheless generally bland and forgettable. I suppose if you have a real thing for dragons, or Dungeons and Dragons, this may appeal, but for the general public it’s just an adequate time killer. As for myself, well, I’ve always been a Lego man.

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