Why You Should Be Watching Dreamworks’ Dragons
By Robin Harry
The How to Train Your Dragon movies are among the best animated movies of the past decade. Keep this in mind when I tell you that Dreamworks’ Dragons, the animated series based on those movies, is every bit as good, and probably even more fulfilling. It is one of my favorite animated shows to date, and is easily one of the best that the Dreamworks studios has out right now (along with Voltron and Trollhunters).
If you’ve never watched the series before, it is definitely worth checking out. It is a LOT of fun, it’s hilarious and heartwarming, and I promise you’ll want your very own dragon before you’re done.
Dreamworks’ Dragons first aired on Cartoon Network for two seasons: Season 1 called Riders of Berk, and Season 2 called Defenders of Berk. The show then moved to Netflix (with an incredibly notable improvement in animation detail) for three more seasons under the name Race to the Edge, with a fourth season to premiere on February 17th.
Now you have the brief history of it, here’s why you should watch it.
First of all, there’s the story. If you loved the movies, you’ll love the series, which is set between the two movies. The first season picks up right where the first movie left off, with the characters learning to train and master their individual dragons, finding new dragons, while facing both homegrown and foreign challenges that come with having dragons around.
When the show moves to Netflix, there’s a time jump which brings them closer in age to the second movie. Hiccup and his merry band of dragon riders become a lot more independent, and the stakes become higher in their adventures. However, it’s all more than just adventures and dragons; there is a lot of heart in all of these stories as they face successes and tragedies. It’s a wonderful coming-of-age tale for Hiccup and all his friends as they learn to work as a team.
All that said, Dreamworks’ Dragons is hilarious. All the characters have certain quirks that make them funny. Hiccup is very much the straight man, but he is also a sarcasm machine. Toothless, his dragon, is the definition of a silent snarker; I have never seen so much sass from a character that doesn’t say a word. Snotlout’s self-aggrandizement makes him a frequent target of derision, especially by his own dragon who constantly embarrasses him.
Most of the comedy, however, comes from the twins, Ruffnut and Tuffnut. These two cloud cuckoolanders are almost never on the same page as the others, they are ridiculously violent with each other for no reason other than self-amusement, and they’re constantly playing pranks on the others. Their tangents and non-sequiturs are absurd, and they’re made even funnier by everyone else’s exasperation with them.
Another thing this show gets right is the villains. Not only are they well-acted (see the guest actors below), but they’re also incredibly fascinating and oddly likeable. Some are a bit loonier than others, but none of them are one-dimensional. They all have remarkable layers to their characters, some with thought-provoking moral stances and motivations, and there are more than a few surprises with them.
The series also develops the relationships among the characters. In the first movie, Hiccup and his father Stoick had a pretty fractured and tense relationship. During the series, they learn and understand more about each other, building trust and mutual respect that had just barely been achieved at the end of the first movie. Hiccup also builds relationships with the other kids, some of whom are much harder to be friends with (Snotlout) than others (Fishlegs).
The character development in this show is fantastic, and every single character is exceedingly fun. Most enjoyable, of course, is Hiccup, as we see him grow from the timid nerd we met in the first movie to become a competent leader. Stoick gradually learns to respect and listen to his son, and all the other kids eventually defer to him. The strong-willed Astrid learns to be a team player. None of the characters are perfect, but their flaws are written with intention and are always explored, either by other characters or by the circumstances in which they end up.
All the kids get their moments to shine, even the ones that are more comedic. Ruffnut and Tuffnut are comical, but don’t think for a second they’re as stupid as they seem. One of my favorite moments in the entire series occurs in the later seasons, when Ruffnut gives Astrid one of the most insightful and savage “this is why you suck” speeches I’ve ever heard. Snotlout is a tool, but he’s a lovable tool and is often the one to point out the folly (or the obvious) in a bad plan. Fishlegs is a super nerd, but…let’s just say it’s best not to cross him.
Even the dragons are fantastic characters, even though they don’t say a word. Toothless, the most intelligent dragon in the group, has incredible characterization. Everything Toothless does has intention, and man, that dragon has some sass. (Also, he’s ADORABLE). My other favorite is the ever hilarious Hookfang, who can be a complete airhead and wastes no opportunity whatsoever to troll Snotlout, his rider.
Quite a few of the original voices from the movies have reprised their roles in the animated series. Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera continue to voice Hiccup and Astrid, and really, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Baruchel’s delivery of Hiccup’s deadpan snark is simply golden. T.J. Miller is an absolute RIOT as Tuffnut (“I am hurt! I am very much hurt!”), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse excellently reprises his movie role as the adorkable Fishlegs.
That said, some of the series’ replacement voices are actually more enjoyable than the movies’ voice actors. For example, I enjoy Nolan North (a.k.a Uncharted’s Nathan Drake) as Stoick a lot more than I enjoyed Gerard Butler; I find North brings a lot more nuance to the role than Butler did. I also quite enjoy Zack Perlman as Snotlout (Jonah Hill in the movie).
If that’s not enough for you, here are some of the guest actors that have graced this show for multiple episode arcs. Mark Hamill. Alfred Molina. David Faustino. Mae Whitman. David freakin’ Tennant!
The series is a mix of standalone episodes and season-long arcs. One of my favourite episodes is Portrait of Hiccup as a Buff Young Man. A family portrait depicts the lanky Hiccup as a much more muscular version of himself, delighting his father, but leaving Hiccup with the need to prove himself as a son. Another notable episode is Tone Death. It’s a musical episode. Not all the actors can sing. It’s hysterical.
I highly, highly recommend watching this series. I’ve watched it three times, and I enjoy it every time. I’m really looking forward to the 4th Netflix season on Friday Feb 17th, and I’m confident that Hiccup and the gang will continue to entertain with fantastic and hilarious adventures.