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4/5

“But on the eve of last winter’s turn, the humans used unspeakable dark magic to slay Thunder.  Then, without mercy, they destroyed his only egg.  His heir.  The Dragon Prince.”

An adventure set in the midst of a conflict between elves and humans, The Dragon Prince is a story full of magic, humor, and heart.  The Netflix original, co-created by Justin Richmond and Aaron Ehasz, should appeal to children, fantasy buffs, and fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender (of which Ehasz was head writer and director).

The Dragon Prince begins in the kingdom of Katolis, where humans have lived since they killed the dragon king and destroyed the egg of his sole heir.  King Harrow and his court are preparing for an invasion of elfin assassins bent on killing the king and his son, Ezran.  But the elves’ plan goes awry when the king’s step-son, Callum, Prince Ezran, and elf Rayla discover the Dragon Prince’s egg – not destroyed after all, but healthy and whole.  The three set out to return the egg to Xadia in hopes of mending the rift between the two nations.

As many fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender can confirm, you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a series like The Dragon Prince.  G-rated humor, animal companions, and group hugs are minor embellishments on bigger issues, such as the cyclical nature of violence and how heroism and villainy isn’t always black-and-white.  Viewers looking for fantasy without gratuitous gore will appreciate the lighter approach of The Dragon Prince.

The story is full of characters with their own strengths and weaknesses.  Callum has both funny-guy antics and a story arc befitting a leading man. Rayla, despite her badass swordsmanship and acrobatics, struggles with insecurity.  Claudia and Soren are dorky and conflicted by turns.  Furthermore, in the mold of Avatar, The Dragon Prince promotes diversity without making a big deal out of it.  Racial diversity is shown in both Katolis and Xadia.  Women fight alongside men.  General Amaya, one of the highest-ranking warriors in Katolis, is deaf and speaks through an interpreter.  This lovable, refreshing cast easily carries what would otherwise be the tired tropes of a fantasy series.

For all its strengths, The Dragon Prince does have a few drawbacks.  Chief among these is the animation, evidently an attempt to merge hand-drawn art and CGI.  The art itself is gorgeous, with great character design and lush, detailed backgrounds.  But the frame rate creates a choppy effect that is most evident in action sequences. The effect is less jarring with time, but such a distraction seems a disservice to the show’s artwork and the crew behind it.

Another weakness is evident in the characters’ motivations.  For example, Rayla’s reasoning for joining Callum and Ezran – rather than taking the Dragon Prince’s egg and striking out on her own – is only explained after a few episodes of the trio traveling together.  Another instance is when, instead of simply trying to explain their situation to the well-meaning General Amaya, Callum fabricates a story about how Rayla is going to kill him and Ezran, so the best option is to… let Rayla kidnap them?  These situations are rife throughout The Dragon Prince, and like the choppy animation, their incongruity distracts attentive viewers from the story.

Despite these issues, I would highly recommend watching The Dragon Prince. With strong characters and themes of peace and friendship, The Dragon Prince is a fun, heartwarming story of adventure and magic.

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