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Review: “DreamWorks Dragons: Race to the Edge” Races to a New Frontier

by on June 26, 2015
 

DRTTE_ep0106_01012608_RGBNow an exclusive on Netflix after two seasons of broadcasting on Cartoon Network, the third season of DreamWorks Dragons (subtitled Race to the Edge) continues the series’ commitment to bridging the gap between How To Train Your Dragon and How To Train Your Dragon 2 in the wake of the second film’s release. To its credit, this spinoff doesn’t stay in stasis, as events start up again a year before Dragon 2 and soon conspire to place Hiccup and his dragon-riding friends well outside the comfortable setting of Berk.

In the beginning of How To Train Your Dragon 2, we find Hiccup devoted to exploration in lieu of stepping up to take on the responsibilities his father thinks he is ready for, and the two-part opener “Dragon Eye of the Beholder” actively plants the seeds for that development. Some time has passed since the events of the second season and while Hiccup still believes in his mission to find and learn about new types of dragons, the rest of his inner circle has moved on after a long period of no new discoveries. Even Astrid is prepared to take up a new job and gently nudges Hiccup toward considering a new chapter in his life, but Hiccup remains skeptical that they’ve really found all there is to find.

Events soon vindicate Hiccup when the group’s old nemesis Dagur the Deranged escapes confinement and sets out to amass new forces to get revenge on Hiccup and Berk, ultimately escaping to beyond the known boundaries of archipelago despite the intervention of Hiccup and his fellow dragon riders. In the process they stumble upon a mysterious artifact Hiccup terms the Dragon’s Eye, effectively a sort of telescope that projects a kind of roadmap to the surrounding area. With this Hiccup, Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, Tuffnut and Ruffnut head out to both see what’s out there and find to eventually find Dagur to stop him for good.

DRTTE_ep102_01192709_RGBThis means brand new varieties of dragons for the group to discover and tame, and in that respect the show is practicing business as usual. Notwithstanding the multitude of species in the films I’m fairly sure even more unique types have been presented to surprise Hiccup’s group and viewers alike, which is a testament to the imagination of the creative staff. Also of interest is the creative decision to place Hiccup and company far enough away from Berk that they have to establish a base of operations for themselves out on the frontier, effectively a home away from home. As of the five episodes Netflix provided for review, not too much has been done with this yet, but it’s a setup with potential. At this stage the core cast are not yet adults but they aren’t children either, and affording them this level of independence from the supervision of adults doubles as appeal for the children watching. It may also be the start of a cogent explanation for why Hiccup’s father Stoick the Vast considers his son ready for the responsibility of leadership amid the events of Dragon 2.

On the downside, there is an apparent lack of urgency to events. In large part Stoick and the rest of Berk’s leadership give Hiccup leave to go exploring in order to stop Dagur, but in the early going he isn’t a looming factor. However viewers can anticipate him not being the only villain of the season, which I count as a good thing since he seemed better at taunting Hiccup than at anything else during “Dragon Eye of the Beholder.” Another weak point is the series’ character-based humor, given that at least half the group seems to exist largely for comic relief. Snotlout makes it his job to be the one to make loud and sarcastic remarks to illustrate how something is going wrong, while the fraternal twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut are practical jokers and generally goofballs. I am conflicted on whether they’re around to make children laugh or make them feel smart. It’s not all bad news, though. Hiccup’s friends all at least get some things to do and come off as having some personality (compared to their rather poor showing in Dragon 2), while I have no real complaints about Astrid and Fishlegs. Fishlegs is second only to Hiccup when it comes to interest in dragons and has it in him to take things seriously, while Astrid continues to prevail as Hiccup’s closest and most level-headed companion.

All in all, Race to the Edge is off to a moderate but promising start. I came of age amid the movie spinoffs of the 1990s, where scores of adventures with seemingly no lasting consequence or relation to the movies did little more than occupy time (Disney’s Aladdin, I’m looking at you). In contrast DreamWorks Dragons at least seems designed and executed with the events of the movies in mind, and viewers that found appeal in their characters and their exploits will definitely find more of the same to enjoy here.
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