Judge Paul Pritchard will train your dragon for three, but he'll catch it, and kill it, for ten.
All-New Dragons! All-New Adventures!
Dragons: Riders of Berk is the spinoff of the excellent 2010 animated movie How To Train Your Dragon. Returning to the land of Berk following the breakout of peace between mankind and dragons, the series picks up almost right where the film ended, and is intended to help maintain interest in the franchise until the film's sequel arrives in 2014.
Sadly, anyone hoping for a return to form is going to be left sorely disappointed by this initial set of four episodes.
What becomes evident very early on is that the lack of a real villain removes any sense of urgency from Dragons: Riders of Berk. Sure, we get Mildew (voiced by Stephen Root), who serves as the primary antagonist, but his cantankerous ways are no kind of substitute for the monstrous dragon that ripped it up during the final act of How To Train Your Dragon. Also problematic is the episodic nature of the show. Each episode is very much a standalone affair, with each presenting Hiccup and his friends with a new problem they need to solve. Hopefully this problem will be remedied as the series continues; but as things stand, Dragons: Riders of Berk plays out like an uninspired videogame adaptation of How To Train Your Dragon, with the once grand plot broken down into small tasks that must be completed before moving on to the next. The endgame of the film was finding peace between the two species, man and dragons, but now that peace has been achieved, there is a distinct lack of things for them to do. In the episode "Viking for Hire," what should have been an interesting, not to mention amusing, look at how weapons maker Gobber (Chris Edgerly) adapts to this newfound peace soon loses its luster as it soon becomes clear that halfhearted jokes are all these writers are interested in. Even more infuriating is the lack of progression for Hiccup, who still gets it in the neck from his father regarding his relationship with the dragons from time to time, even though he is solely responsible for the peace everyone enjoys.
Admittedly the fact that the majority of the voice cast has returned for this spinoff helps. Sans Gerard Butler, Kristen Wiig, and Jonah Hill, the main players are all back. This in turn ensures their respective characters are enthused with the same level of warmth that drew us to them in the first place. As one would expect, Jay Baruchel and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are the standouts, but even newcomers Julie Marcus and Nolan North, who play Ruffnut and Stoick the Vast respectively, fit in nicely. Despite this, there's no denying the magic has gone; where Toothless was enigmatic before, he is simply a puppy with wings now. Indeed, the dragons as a whole have lost their sparkle, as their once strong personalities are watered down to comedy sidekick status. New additions to the cast, notably Mulch and Bucket, ensure the series has a nice line of comedy running through it that will certainly help it appeal to children. Bucket in particular stands out, thanks to his dimwittedness. While it's true that youngsters will find their mishaps amusing, there is nothing here that will truly captivate them like the show's big screen counterpart did so ably.
Visually, at least, Dragons: Riders of Berk is excellent. Though not quite reaching the same level as its big-screen counterpart, it still bests the majority of its peers. The show's good looks are well-represented by the DVD release, which boasts a sharp transfer bursting with color. The soundtrack also scores well, with clear dialogue complemented by the show's score. Extras are limited to a brief look at the How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular, and a sneak peak at the upcoming Madly Madagascar. Included in the DVD case is a set of cards, each detailing a particular dragon. Viewers with an Android or iOS Smartphone can download a complementary AR app, which, when the phone's camera is aimed at a card, triggers a brief animation.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Dragons: Riders of Berk, but as a follow-up to How To Train Your Dragon, it inevitably brings with it some big expectations that it falls some way short of matching. How To Train Your Dragon was a magical, uplifting adventure that warrants repeated viewings, whereas Dragons: Riders of Berk is an above-average TV show, but nothing more. Hopefully, the series will improve as it progresses, but until then, I'd urge caution before picking up this DVD.
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