DreamWorks Animation has established itself as a studio which consistently produces stunning animated films, and perhaps no more so than with its “How to Train Your Dragon” film series. The franchise boasts endlessly beautiful imagery, as well as incredibly lovable characters and intense action. All of these elements can be found in spades in the Netflix spinoff series “Race to the Edge,” as the show expands on these facets and digs deep into what makes the franchise so great.
As with most animated properties, the main demographic for the “Dragons” franchise is children. However, the creators of both the films and TV series have shown that this franchise isn’t exclusively for children; rather, it’s conveniently made accessible for children, while proving entertaining for older audiences as well. Whether you’re a fan of animation, the franchise, looking for a fun fantasy series to binge for a couple of weekends, or simply seeking a show that the whole family can enjoy, here are some reasons why “Race to the Edge” is worth watching — no matter your age.
The quality gap in animation between feature-length films and TV series is always apparent, as films simply have more time and money to produce higher quality animation as opposed to an episodic show. And while the “Dragon” films certainly set a high bar in revolutionizing 3-D animation, the show certainly stands above your typical 3-D animated series (which can be wonky and unrefined). In “Race to the Edge,” there are stunning images of action, seamless character movements, and gorgeously animated scenery. The open seas and exotic dragon-inhabited islands create an immersive atmosphere, establishing a colorful and very much lived-in world. Its colorful, refined, and filled with style: everything you could want from an animated series.
Branching off from the show’s spectacular animation, the action sequences may be the series’ most surprising strength. Sure, the films feature exhilarating scenes throughout, but the show matches this high-quality of action on an episode-to-episode basis. The writers and animators really know how to creatively utilize dragon-riding to pull off impressive aerial and naval combat. By emphasizing the different species of dragons and all their unique abilities, the action becomes original and highly stylized. One dragon in particular, the Submaripper, lurks the ocean floors and can create whirlpools at will, embracing the high fantasy of its mythos to deliver impressive and creative action sequences. The swashbuckling action isn’t overly violent, though, as it rides more along the lines of “Star Wars” than “The Lord of the Rings.”
The animators don’t hold back in creating distinct movements and facial expressions for the entire cast to develop fully realized personalities. One character in particular, Dagur, played by Dave Faustino (“The Legend of Korra”), consistently has a crazed look in his eye, that not only delivers on a comedic level, but also in establishing a familiar trait that makes the character memorable and seem real because of his recurring physical habits.
Aside from the animation, the narrative proves to boost the characters above typical caricatures. As a spinoff show, one which takes place about two years before the second film, one may fear that the characters may be confined and limited, as perhaps the writers would be afraid to grow the characters too much out of fear of conflicting with their representations in the films. This is certainly not the case, as every character is presented with challenges and intriguing arcs, some of which progress through all four seasons. Dagur is one such character, consistently wavering between villain, hero, and everything in the middle. Sometimes the show will delve into comedic plot lines that provide more lighthearted lessons for its younger audience. However, every trial the characters go through, whether significant or not, seems genuine and always has some kind moral values younger viewers can take with them.
Hiccup, the franchise’s protagonist, goes through several changes himself in the show, including several major ones toward the end of the fourth season. His values are consistently tested, and the weight of his newfound responsibility puts a lot of pressure on him and his decision-making. There’s an episode in Season 4 where Hiccup learns he has a bounty on him, but he doesn’t tell his father because he thinks he can handle the situation on his own, and he doesn’t want to interfere with Berk’s festivities. The challenges these characters go through serve as a reminder of how the story, at its core, is a coming-of-age tale; one which provides valuable lessons regarding responsibility, light romance, plus family for the show’s younger viewers and compelling arcs for more mature audiences.
The Humor and Voice Acting
The episode mentioned above also highlights some of the hilarious Viking humor, as the twins Rufffnut and Tuffnut (voiced by Andree Vermeulen and T.J. Miller) become jealous of Hiccup’s bounty, and thus try to convince the adversaries they come across that episode that they, too, are wanted Vikings. When the show embraces the extremity of Viking humor, the incredible voice acting can turn even the more juvenile gags into something really funny.
Franchise staples Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera continue their great work portraying Hiccup and Astrid, along with Christopher Mintz-Plasse and the aforementioned Miller reprising their roles, both supplying their usual comedic talents to full effect. The supporting characters also boast a prestigious cast, consisting of Mae Whitman (“Parenthood”), David Tennant (“Doctor Who”), Tom Kenny (“Spongebob Squarepants”), and most impressively, Alfred Molina (“Love is Strange”).
A special shout-out is deserved for Zack Pearlman (“Shameless”), who voices Snotlout, a macho Viking usually portrayed by Jonah Hill in the films, and Pearlman emulates Hill so well that it’s difficult to differentiate the character’s cinematic and TV voices. Snotlout is a character who, at times, can come across rather annoyingly, but Pearlman embraces Snoutlout’s repellent personality by voicing him in the most obnoxious way possible, making it hard not to laugh whenever the character opens his big mouth.
Possibly the show’s most impressive strength is its use of intriguing and compelling villains. Thankfully, the show does not exercise one-off antagonists or clumsy baddies, resulting in conflicts that carry over throughout the seasons, and this constancy produces intimidating and worthy adversaries for our heroes.
Season 1 establishes Dagur the Deranged, of the Berserker tribe, as its main antagonist. (Can you tell that he’s my favorite character?) His absolutely bonkers personality and brotherly obsession with Hiccup makes him the highlight of any scene, but his drive to prove himself as the most ruthless Viking to roam the seas means he can’t be taken lightly. Dagur evolves as a character throughout the series, as he is revealed to posses several layers beneath his maniacal antics.
In the show’s second season, Dagur’s inability to stop Hiccup’s dragon riding crew himself prompts him to join forces with dragon hunters, led by the physically intimidating Ryker. Also throwing their hat into the villainous ring is Heather, a character who, like Dagur, was introduced in the franchise’s previous TV series “Riders of Berk.” Heather is an individual full of secrets, including why she is teaming up with Dagur and Ryker. However, these villains ultimately serve as pawns to the most impressive antagonist the series has to offer, in the form of Ryker’s brother: Viggo, voiced impeccably by Alfred Molina.
Viggo, the leader of the dragon hunting clan, possesses a very nuanced personality, exhuming his intelligence in every scene he’s in. He stands as a clear juxtaposition to his brother, Ryker, in that he’s calculating, ambitious, and constantly working to strategically undermine the Dragon-loving way of life Hiccup and his gang are trying to spread across the Viking world, as opposed to Ryker’s methods of brute force. The relationship between Hiccup and Viggo is what makes the third and fourth seasons so compelling. Just as Hiccup aspires to learn everything he can about Dragons to figure out how can create perfect unity between them and Vikings, Viggo is bent on finding dragons with useful abilities so that he can make a profit. Viggo, an avid player of the Viking strategy game “Maces and Talons,” matches Hiccup’s intelligence and even outsmarts the hero on several occasions, and it is through his failures at the hands of Viggo that forces Hiccup to grow immensely as a character.
The Mythology and World
Many of the show’s episodes focus on Hiccup discovering new dragons, whether through exploration, saving them from hunters, or by simply crossing paths with them. Every dragon is unique and adds to the constant world building the show executes so well. One dragon can shoot fireballs from its tail. Another dragon hordes metallic objects to create a makeshift coat of armor in order to protect its vulnerable body. The show takes full advantage of the rich lore of dragons from its novelistic source material (from author Cressida Cowell), resulting in a fully realized world with a compelling mythology that the narrative revolves around.
It’s also worth noting that the world is brought to life through John Paesano’s (“Pacific Rim 2”) musical work, which not only emulates John Powell’s masterpieces from the two films, but also adds onto it with new renditions and themes. The “Dragon” world feels more alive than ever in “Race to the Edge,” making it worth checking out for fans of all ages.