I watched the first season of Netflix’s new animated series, The Dragon Prince, this past weekend and overall really liked it. At this point, I’ll have to wait for the next seasons to see where it ranks among animation for me, but color me impressed for now. The world is expansive and beautifully designed, the characters are well written, and the unique animation is gorgeous. That’s not to say everything about this fantasy epic is perfect, but it where it works it works spectacularly. The show’s creators have established a great foundation for their universe for kids and adults to enjoy. It’s a new universe full of intrigue, excitement, and moral quandary that will have viewers hooked.
The Dragon Prince Season 1 immediately establishes its sprawling world. With a lengthy three-minute prologue you get the gist of the overall conflict between the Elves and the humans. While some might complain that this exposition is unneeded, it still gives the audience a firm starting point to explore the new world of Katolis and Xadia. The conflict is longstanding. The villains are not initially clear-cut. All sides have made mistakes to one degree or another. You can tell watching that there is a longer conflict at play with far more subtle undercurrents of tension and unresolved issues.
The “right side” is not clear-cut. The writing and the premise challenge the audience in their perceptions of both the ambitious, Icarian humans and the ruthless and vengeful elves. We have sympathy for both factions. With this premise, The Dragon Prince stands out in children’s animation by giving its a world a Game of Thrones style of moral ambiguity. Presenting viewing audiences with this complexity is beneficial and innovative. Particularly, the children watching can learn early about complex geopolitics along with reveling in the series’ amazing action sequences and fun humor.
The magic system that The Dragon Prince presents is also fascinating and explained in an easy way for the audience to understand. Season 1 scratches the surface of this, giving the audience a taste of it and appetite for more magical lore to come.
The best-written character and main protagonist, of the three, is by far Rayla. While conflicted about her role with her people and what her overall purpose is, she captivates the audience with her fiery determination to achieve justice in her own way. From the moment we see her eyes on the screen, audiences form a connection with the vivacious moon shadow elf. Watching her learn about the human world while journeying with Callum and Ezran is entertaining. It is also often very poignant. In scenes away from the main trio, I was eager to get back to Rayla’s amazing story. Her journey is about learning how to choose the morally right action, and learn that not everything her people taught her about humans may be correct. Many of us can see ourselves in her amazing journey.
Callum and Ezran are the princes of Katolis. Both are great as well but not as compelling as Rayla. Of the three, she stands out the most in her arc. The two princes are still feeling out theirs. They are also trying to find their places in a world they’ve been sheltered from in their young lives. The princes must, like Rayla, refuse the false truths their kingdom has fed them and rebel to save their people. They act as lovable comic relief, with Jack De Sena, the voice of Sokka in Avatar: The Last Airbender, voicing the easygoing Callum and newcomer Sasha Rojen voicing the precocious Ezran. Additionally, Ezran, Callum, and their step-father/father King Harrow present a wonderful example of a mixed-race family for kids to see.
The writing of the side characters is strong. Each is a unique participator in the plot. Other characters that stand out include the brilliant but scatter-brained Claudia, and her jock brother with a heart of gold Soren. Runaan, another Moonshadow elf, impresses with his ruthless determination to bring justice against the humans. An unexpected fan favorite is the human General Amaya, who brings representation on another front.
King Harrow of Katolis is a conflicted ruler, whose burden of leadership in this period of war is palpable. His internal struggle is another morally grey conflict among many. His dynamic and story with his longtime advisor and friend Viren (another crucial player in the plot) is fascinating. Their plot, in effect, asks us what we would be willing to do to protect our tribe/people. The audience has some, but not all, questions answered at the end of Season 1, increasing the anticipation for Season two.
The Dragon Prince has a unique computer animation style that replicates 2D animation. You can see how figures move frame by frame. It is decidedly not smooth. When trailers started coming out, people expressed concern about the series’ animation quality. I am happy to say that when the series’ unique animation works, it works spectacularly. The action scenes are riveting and gorgeous. They look like paintings in motion.
However, there were concerns the animation would be distracting and I did find this to be the case in some scenes. In scenes where characters were speaking to each other and/or walking, it was very noticeable. Their movement was stilted to me and even blurry at times. While I understand what the animators were going for with this style, it needs smoothing out for future seasons. Hopefully, we’ll see it refined in season two.
Overall, The Dragon Prince Season 1 is a great addition to the animated fantasy lexicon. With strong characters, a compelling plot, and beautiful (but flawed) animation, it is both a thoroughly enjoyable and intellectually enriching story that all ages can easily enjoy. On a more critical note, the writing of dialogue and humor can use work in some areas. Thankfully it almost consistently presents a compelling narrative. While there are great side characters, we only get to know a few of them well to establish a connection. The Dragon Prince is not one of the best animated series I’ve ever seen (top of which includes Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Voltron: Legendary Defender, and Trollhunters) but it has plenty of room to grow in its hopefully upcoming seasons. For the time being, however, this is a noble start.
The Dragon Prince Season 1 now streaming exclusively on Netflix .
The Dragon Prince Season 1
Overall, The Dragon Prince is a great addition to the animated fantasy lexicon. With strong characters, a compelling plot, and beautiful (but flawed) animation, it is both a thoroughly enjoyable and intellectually enriching story that all ages can easily enjoy.