Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dragons Review: "Alvin and the Outcasts"

This week's episode picks up where "In Dragons We Trust" left off.   Thanks to Mildew's meddling, all the dragons have been banned and sent away to the island they originally came from.  But while Hiccup and the gang are busy looking for evidence of Mildew's plot, a new threat has come to Berk.  Enter Alvin the Treacherous.  He and his ruthless gang of outcast vikings invade and quickly conquer the island demanding to see the legendary "Dragon Conqueror" who resides there.

Though Mildew stepped up to the plate as the main antagonist of the first part of this story, Alvin the Treacherous represents the first full-fledged villain to be introduced to the series, and what a villain he is!  While Mildew has mostly served as a comedic antagonist, there is nothing funny about Alvin.  Though the pacing is quick due to the nature of being a TV show, Alvin is still firmly established as a force to be reckoned with.  The climax of this episodes brings with it some of the fiercest action seen in the franchise as a whole, original movie included.

This episode was not completely devoid of the humor we've seen in the previous episodes, but there was a much larger emphasis on suspense and action this time around.  Plus, my long standing complaint that Stoic the Vast has so little personality in this show is addressed at last, and in a big way.  Stoic is a very prominent character and, at last, he's the powerful viking we saw in the film once again.

"Alvin and the Outcasts" manages to end on a very satisfying note for this two part story but it also sets up some interesting new directions for the series and it actually does not tie up all the loose ends, leaving threads for future episodes to deal with.  Looks like Riders of Berk is as strong as ever.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dragons Review: "In Dragons We Trust"

Mildew is back, as determined to get rid of the dragons as always.  First a dragon crashes through his roof.  Then the dragons steal all of the viking's boots.  Who knows what other havoc the dragons may cause at night?  To keep the mishaps under control, Hiccup goes on night patrol to see what the dragons are up to.  His findings?  Dragons sleep, just like everyone else.  Yet somehow damage continues to appear in the morning that appears to be the work of those pesky dragons, and the incidents continue to become more and more severe.  Could there be some foul play afoot?

At first it seemed this episode would again build it's plot out of common television cliches.  For a portion of the episode, it seemed like a reasonably traditional Scooby-Doo mystery.  But Riders of Berk surprised me again by ending the episode on a rather captivating cliff-hanger and avoids the obvious ending I expected to see play out.  Mildew remains a great new addition to the cast, and he's portrayed in a much more villainous light this time around. Plus Stoic got to display a bit more personality at last.

What at first appeared to be a rehash of the first episode turned out to be the start of what appears to be a multi-episode story arc.  With the fate of the dragons left unknown, I look forward to the next chapter in the story.  Bring on the next episode!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dragons Review: "The Terrible Twos"

The latest episode of Dragons: Riders of Berk finds Hiccup discovering a new type of baby dragon.  The little dragon, named Torch, isn't the friendliest of dragons, and when Hiccup takes the little guy home with him Torch and Toothless do not hit it off.  Hiccup and the gang also quickly discover that Torch has many unique abilities unlike any other dragon, a discovery that really seems to rub Toothless the wrong way.  However, Toothless soon realizes that jealousy may be the least of his troubles when he discovers that Torch's angry mother is rampaging across the island looking for her lost baby.

I was surprised and thrilled to see that "The Terrible Twos" turned out to be such a showcase for Toothless.  He's front and center the whole time!  And not only does Toothless continue to be one of the most appealing characters in the recent history of animation, his ample screen-time also shows off how well produced Riders of Berk is.  Despite being a large and complex character to animate, Toothless moves and emotes beautifully in this episode.  I was also very pleased to see that the creators of the show were willing to have one of the dragons be the main character, instead of merely serving as a sidekick for the human cast.  Here's hoping more episodes put Toothless in charge!

The story relies a bit less on television cartoon cliches than past episodes, even if the jealousy subplot has been seen before, and it easily features the most action-packed moments of the show thus far.  "The Terrible Twos" is yet another in a line of great episodes to start the season.  I can't wait to see what Riders of Berk has to offer next week!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dragons Review: "Animal House"

Cartoon Network's new series Dragons: Riders of Berk officially premiered tonight with what is actually the third episode to air, "Animal House."  Once again the plot was centered around another challenge of living peacefully with Dragons.  This time, it turns out that the farm animals are terrified of the big scaly beasts that suddenly coexist with them.  And, out of sheer terror, the chickens have been rendered unable to lay eggs and the yaks have stopped giving milk.  With a terrible blizzard on the way, it's up to Hiccup (who else?) to figure out how to get the farm animals to relax so the Vikings won't starve during the storm.  But when the blizzard hits early, can Hiccup and the dragons round up the terrified animals before they all freeze to death?

The story isn't going to win any awards.  It's simple and predictable.  The episode beginss with an otherwise unrelated scene about snowboarding on dragons where we learn that dragons have a natural instinct to protect non-dragons in times of peril.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to put two and two together and figure out where the story is going well before the halfway mark.  It's also a bit strange to see Hiccup so shocked and surprised that Toothless would be willing to save his life given that Toothless kind of did that a whole bunch of times already in the movie.  Plus the whole concept of dragons having a natural instinct to protect all other living creatures is a bit strange.

However, story nitpicks aside, "Animal House" has once again proven to be an enjoyable and well executed extension of the film's world.  The writing continues to be top-notch with lots of great one liners and visual gags that are perfectly in line with the film.  Plus, the tone does a good job of shifting to a more serious side once the blizzard hits.  Stoic continues to lack personality in the show, but all the other characters are spot on.  Toothless gets lots of screen time in this particular episode and he steals the show, as expected.  His animation looks great for a television budget and he even gets to reprise his trademark awkward smile from the film.  The score also does a brilliant job of creating the right tone and atmosphere, with a liberal sprinkling of the movie's themes throughout.

So in the end, even though it's easy to point out how predictable and flawed the story of "Animal House" is, it didn't actually detract from my enjoyment of the episode.  It matches the style and tone of the film perfectly, even if it doesn't offer a lot of surprises.  Plus, it was pretty cool to finally see one of the terrible snow storms mentioned in the film.  And snowboarding on a Night Fury should totally be in the next Winter Olympics.  Dragons: Riders of Berk is off to a good start!