The How to Train Your Dragon series is one of the most revered franchises under the DreamWorks Animation banner. The two films have been box office successes and are the most critically acclaimed the studio has produced to date, both garnering “freshness” ratings of over 90% according to Rotten Tomatoes. So it came as no surprise that DreamWorks developed a television series to chronicle the further adventures of Hiccup, Toothless, and the residents of Berk in-between the films. From 2012 to 2014, the Dragons television series aired on Cartoon Network, the first season subtitled Riders of Berk and the second season subtitled Defenders of Berk. The show received critical praise and scored high ratings for the network. At the end of 2014, DreamWorks announced they were moving the show to Netflix, as part of the studio’s partnership with the streaming service to produce exclusive content. The series received a new title in Dragons: Race to the Edge, with a more focused direction as a transition into the second film.
As Race to the Edge begins, Hiccup starts to wonder about his place as the years of peace on Berk have seen the dragon riders seemingly going their separate ways. A prison break by an unstable yet no less dangerous adversary brings the team back together and they are soon forced to venture beyond the known viking borders. While investigating a graveyard of ships, Hiccup stumbles upon a mysterious device that, when activated by a dragon’s fire, projects maps and writings unlike anything he and the others have ever seen. What’s more, it shows that further out into the unknown territories are new species of dragons waiting to be discovered. However, they are not the only ones on the hunt and must race against enemies both old and new to protect the dragons.
Before going any further, a word of caution. While it is being presented as a separate series, Race to the Edge as a whole can be seen as technically the third season of the show. Despite taking place roughly three and a half years after the events of Defenders of Berk, characters and plot-lines are carried over. This is important to note because both Riders of Berk and Defenders of Berk are not streaming on Netflix, as of writing. This will make following a good chunk of the story a little hard to do in the beginning, as it assumes viewers have already watched the show when it was on Cartoon Network. To their credit, the writers tried to develop the inclusion of these characters and plot-lines in a way that new viewers would get up to speed. It is in the “second season” of Race to the Edge that the show really takes off on its own direction, introducing villains who are a real threat to dragons and the dragon riders.
One of the defining aspects of the Dragons series, both in film and television, is a desire for depth in the world and its characters. Each episode is engaging and hooks viewers in with well-written stories. By and large, the show stays on course with focusing on the primary arc of Hiccup and the gang exploring the unknown territories to search for and document new species of dragons. There are a number of episodes that shift in a different direction such as an attempt to use hypnosis to cure Fishlegs’ allergies going south, Hiccup’s testing of a prototype wingsuit leading to the discovery of a dangerous dragon species evolving, and how Astrid handles training a secondary team of dragon riders with mixed results. There is a great balance in how much humor to use and how dark things get, allowing for the show to be thrilling to watch from start to finish for viewers of all ages.
The animation is among some of the best seen in a CG television show. While not at the level of the animated features, the attention to detail is very apparent, from the scales of each dragon to the bangs on Astrid’s hair flowing naturally. The characters are not stiff or rigid, instead moving with some life and displaying a great deal of personality in their expressions. Just watching Tuffnut and Ruffnut engaging in their antics and looking at their faces as they react with mischievous glee and delight is infectious. Even the backgrounds are nice to look at and don’t come off as plastic toys. Occasionally there will be something like running animation that doesn’t appear to be up to snuff, but it hardly distracts from the overall visual beauty of the show.
Perhaps the real joy in the series lies in the voice acting. Not only do Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and TJ Miller reprise Hiccup, Astrid, Fishlegs, and Tuffnut, but they put in the effort to make them come to life as naturally on television as they would on film. Zack Pearlman and Andree Vermuelen do fantastic work in place of Jonah Hill and Kristen Wiig as Snotlout and Ruffnut, in particular Vermuelen who clearly sounds like she loves getting to play around with Miller. David Tennant is a joy to hear whenever he pops in as Snotlout’s dad Spitelout, and Alfred Molina makes a delightful addition to the series as new villain Viggo. The great voice acting provides the kind of authenticity that’s not normally present in shows that spin-off from animated features. Add in a nice, dramatic music score by John Paesano along with the outstanding sound effects and the show is just as much fun to listen to as it is to watch.
Dragons: Race to the Edge is a fun, quality television show that will not only please fans of the Dragons series, but also animation fans of all ages. While it would be ideal to be familiar with Riders of Berk and Defenders of Berk seasons before diving in, the overall storytelling, animation, and soundtrack make it a joyful and worthy way of spending a day or two of binge-watching. And with such endearing characters to root for, it helps make the How to Train Your Dragon franchise all the more beloved by its fans.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
Dragons: Race to the Edge
Available only on Netflix Streaming
Developed by Linda Teverbaugh and Mike Teverbaugh