In our age of having a thousand different options for streaming, we’re pickier than ever. In our quest to whittle down our choices we sometimes look more for reasons not to watch something than reasons we should. This is why you may not have checked out one of Netflix’s newest animated series, The Dragon Prince. The show’s first two hurdles that make for seemingly perfect reasons not to check it out. The animation and the marketing for the series.
Let’s start with the animation, since this is easily the bigger of the two hurdles. As we pointed out in our review of the first season of The Dragon Prince, it’s choppy and makes you question if your internet is working properly. While it’s not as bad as some will lead you to believe, it may have an affect your ability to immerse yourself in the show.
One shouldn’t be thinking about frame rates when trying to get invested in a fantasy world. It’s far less noticeable in the series’ well staged action scenes but it really does damage to the all important character moments. Scenes that should be getting us closer to the characters instead keep us at arms length because they’re off-putting to look at.
This actually kept me off the series after the first three episodes screened for that initial review. It was only after hearing a lot of word of mouth about how good the show was that I watched the entire first season, and that stuttering effect wasn’t quite as noticeable by the time I got to the end. I’m not sure if it’s because I had simply gotten used to it or the animators got more comfortable with the style. Whatever it may be, the story was enough to keep me engaged by that point.
This is where the other hurdle comes in, one that isn’t directly the series’ fault. The Dragon Prince was created by Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond, the former being the head writer of the beloved animated fantasy series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The marketing was extremely keen to capitalize on that series’ success, often stating “From the head writer of Avatar: The Last Airbender!” Considering the popularity of Avatar, it may have created some unreasonably high expectations.
This simply isn’t a fair metric to judge the series. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a modern day classic, a series that is rightly held up as a masterpiece of modern animated storytelling. Many fans have asked if The Dragon Prince is “ATLA good” which is impossible to say, since even ATLA wasn’t “ATLA good” after its first nine episodes. The first half of ATLA‘s first season was good but without the context of the rest of the series, it doesn’t stand out quite as much. You can’t fairly compare the two until The Dragon Prince has another full season or so under its belt.
Right now The Dragon Prince is primarily engaged in the establishment of its world. We’ve met the main characters, gotten to know them, introduced the central conflict, and even started to build out some lore. After nine episodes ATLA had done pretty much the same thing. Maybe if The Dragon Prince’s subsequent seasons are amazing we’ll all look back on these opening episodes as laying the groundwork for its own epic story. It takes time for a series to find its footing and build up enough story to really start hitting those beats that make it beloved.
And despite all of this, there’s still a lot of potential. The main story, dealing with a brewing war between humans and elves, is solid. Three kids, Callum, Rayla, and Ezran, soon discover the origin of that conflict, a destroyed dragon’s egg, was in fact stolen. They set out on a mission to return the egg in hopes of stopping the fighting. Along the way they are tracked by Viren, a shady mage, that’s intent on starting the war in earnest.
The first season is mostly made up of the three kids starting on their quest and bonding with one another as Viren sends his own children to stop them. There’s commentary on the cycle of violence and racism. This isn’t just throwaway entertainment for kids, there’s more going on under the surface. You can tell the writers have a long term plan for the series, with enough lore about the dragons and moonshadow elf’s to build upon for seasons to come.
The main cast is what really shines in that first season. Callum is a delightful lead who’s always ready with a silly joke and is slowly discovering his magical abilities. The other lead is Rayla, a moonshadow elf who’s torn between what her culture has taught her and the desire to bring an end to the fighting between elves and humans. We’ve also got Ezran, the younger half-brother of Callum who delightfully avoids the “annoying kid” trope and brings a lot of heart to the team. Even his pet sidekick Bait is super cute and not an annoying animal!
The supporting cast is also a delight. Soren, the biggest trash boy of the cast, is easily the series’ funniest character with seemingly stupid observations his best quality. He’s got a heart of gold though, especially when he suspects something is up with his dad, Viren, and tries to eat all his sorrows away. Claudia, Soren’s sister, is a bouncy and fun mage that never takes herself too seriously.
By the end of the ninth episode these characters have gone through enough to make the audience care. They’re walking disasters but you love them for it. They’re just trying their best!
It should also be noted how diverse the series is. It features characters of multiple ethnicities (including the bi-racial Callum and Ezren) that are reflected in the main, supporting, and even minor cast. General Amaya, the warrior commander, is an extremely rare deaf woman of color in children’s media who’s treated with the utmost respect by the series.
If you gave up on The Dragon Prince after a few episodes or haven’t checked it out yet, give it a chance when season two arrives. Go in knowing the animation takes a bit to get used to and that it might not be “ATLA level good” right out of the gate. But fantasy series need a few episodes to immerse you in the world before they can start telling significant stories, and there’s reason to believe the show’s second season will get us there.
The Dragon Prince Season 2 arrives on Netflix on Feb. 15.