DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk premiered on Cartoon Network. The Academy Award-nominated film, How To Train Your Dragon, serves as the launching pad for the third episodic television series from DreamWorks Animation and its first-ever on Cartoon Network. (Penguins of Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness air on Nickelodeon.)
This weekly animated series follows the continuing adventures of Hiccup and his dragon Toothless on the Viking island of Berk, along with the band of dragon trainers, all of whom now have dragons of their own. Through their training, the kids develop special bonds with their dragons by learning about each dragon’s unique powers, discovering entirely new species and battling against new villains as they explore whole new worlds they never dreamed existed.
DreamWorks Animation’s much-anticipated sequel to How To Train Your Dragon is scheduled to be released in theaters on June 20, 2014.
The pilot episode of DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk picks up where the movie and holiday special left off, with dragons living with the residents on the island of Berk. However, the relationship between man and beast is strained because the dragons are eating all the food and destroying the homes.
Mildew, the man who lives at the top of the island (and loves his sheep) rallies the village into trying to get rid of the dragons. Hiccup and his friends appeal to Stoick, Hiccup’s father and the leader of the tribe, to give them more time to train the dragons.
Without giving too much away (the dragons stay!), I will say the pilot episode was charming and funny. Getting to know the kids and their dragons makes the show endearing, as well as watching the relationships between Stoick, Hiccup and Gobber, Stoick’s life-long friend. Each episode seems poised to offer a message in right vs. wrong, friendship vs. selfishness.
Visually, the cartoon is gorgeous, much like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but with brighter colors. The dragons pop and the characters are as rounded as the feature film.
As with most pilot episodes, some of the time was spent covering back stories for people who didn’t see How to Train Your Dragon. I’m hoping new episodes will tell us more about the characters, their history, or show more action with the dragons and Mildew. Even though the target demographic is youngsters, I’d like to see more of the thoughtful storytelling and clever jokes we saw in the movie.
Hiccup, Stoick’s son and previously the island’s biggest screw-up. Now he’s the leader of the kids who train the dragons after proving his abilities by taming his dragon, Toothless, the only Night Fury.
Stoick the Vast, the leader of the Hooligans who live on Berk. His name is also descriptive of his appearance. His broad shoulders feel the weight of the responsibility of caring for his tribe.
Gobber, best friend to Stoick and Master to Hiccup’s apprenticeship as a blacksmith. Previously the island’s expert on dragons, Gobber now works with the kids in training.
Astrid, Hiccup’s crush and one of the best young Viking warriors on Berk. In the movie, she discovered Hiccup’s relationship with Toothless and helped them win everyone over. She trains her dragon, Stormfly, a Deadly Nadders, to use the spikes on her tail for gardening and holiday decorating.
Fishlegs, one of Hiccup’s best friends. Though Fishlegs is a little on the slow side, he works well with his dragon, Meatlug, a Gronkle.
Snotlout, the kids’ know-it-all friend whose bark is worse than his bite. His dragon, Hookfang, a Monstrous Nightmare, tolerates him enough to let him think he’s training her.
Ruffnut and Tuffnut, the twins who love to fight with each other. They’re the jokesters of the group, even when they’re riding their two-headed Hideous Zippleback, Barf and Belch.
In DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk we meet a few new characters who have been added to the village roster.
Mildew, the mean old man who wants to get rid of the dragons, kind of like the neighbor who keeps your ball when it lands in his yard.
Bucket and Mulch, inseparable friends. These men are the comic relief on the island, as if it needed any. Bucket got his name from the bucket he wears as a hat.
DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk retained many of the actors from the cast of the original movie.
Jay Baruchel (Hiccup) is most famous for She’s Out of My League and Knocked Up.
America Ferrera (Astrid) is most famous for playing Betty in ABC’s Ugly Betty. She also starred in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs) starred in Superbad and Kick-Ass.
T.J. Miller (Tuffnut), my new favorite voice-over actor, is most often remembered for Our Idiot Brother and She’s Out of My League.
In addition to these returning players, new cast members were added for the TV cartoon.
Legendary Tim Conway (Mulch), most famous for McHale’s Navy and The Carol Burnett Show, also voices Barnacle Boy in SpongeBob SquarePants.
Mark Hamill (Alvin the Treacherous), most famous as Star Wars Luke Skywalker, who also voices dozens of cartoon characters, including Skips on Regular Show.
Stephen Root (Mildew), whose voice is most recognized for playing Bill Dauterive on King of the Hill, as well as acting in dozens of live-action TV shows and movies, including The Office.
Nolan North (replacing Gerard Butler as Stoick), recognized most for his work as Drake in the Uncharted series of video games.
Chris Edgerly (replacing Craig Ferguson as Gobber) has voiced dozens of characters in cartoons and video games, notably as Aragorn in many Lord of the Rings video games.
Tom Wilson (Bucket), who played Tim Flaherty on Ghost Whisperer and Ricky Jax on Big Love.
Zach Pearlman (replacing Jonah Hill as Snotlout), most famous for playing Jay in The Inbetweeners on MTV.
Julie Marcus (replacing Kristen Wiig as Ruffnut), making her breakthrough performance in her first big role.
DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk is produced by DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. Art Brown and Douglas Sloan are show runners. The series is co-executive produced by Sandra Rabins. Anthony Bell serves as supervising director.
My Two Cents
DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk has retained the gorgeous look of the original movie, as well as the solid storytelling. Some of the sight gags and dialogue is geared toward young viewers, but adults can enjoy the unfolding story and relationships the characters are building.
A few of the voices are jarring if you’ve watched the movie several times, like I have, but overall the cast is tight and each performance is spot-on.