‘The Dragon Prince’ takes risks with CGI and potential plot advancements

Graham Shapley

“The Dragon Prince” is the newest animated show from Aaron Ehasz, the former head writer of acclaimed Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, has a lot to live up to.

The story follows Callum (Jack De Sena, best known in his role as Sokka in “Avatar”) and Ezran (Sasha Rojen) two princes of the kingdom of Katolis, in a beautiful but admittedly generic fantasy world. The kingdom is in the middle of a war, set off by the recent attack which killed the king of the dragons and destroyed his only egg.

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The princes’ father, King Harrow, gets wind of an assassination plot, and in order to protect his children, he sends them away.

He intends to do this before Rayla (Paula Burrows), a young elven woman and a member of the band of assassins, gets to them. A series of revelations about the inciting incident of strife leads the three to seek a path towards peace on their own, kicking off a journey that feels right out of a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

The first thing that a viewer will notice in “The Dragon Prince” is the animation. Rather than traditional hand-drawn animation, the series uses cel-shaded CGI. This makes for an impressive visual style, but it’s not without its problems.

The framerate is more in tune with hand-drawn animation, which would usually incorporate smear frames and stretches in order to create the illusion of motion. With CGI, going off-model is more difficult and as a consequence the animation stutters.

While any given frame will look great should one press the pause button, it takes a bit of getting used to the motion. Action scenes flow beautifully with excellent choreography because the eye blurs them naturally, but quieter moments suffer the most from this choice.

The Dragon Prince is streaming now on Netflix

As the series went on through its nine-episode run, the animation became less noticeable. The show may simply take a learning curve, or perhaps as more animation is being done, small improvements are being made.

The other major issue with “The Dragon Prince” is its storyline. Any time that an interesting dilemma came up or an idea that seemed like it would be interesting to explore, it was often resolved within minutes with the less interesting option.

Perhaps this is all set-up for the future. The series wears a proud ‘Book One’ a la “Avatar” before each of its titles, but as it stands I have a hard time looking past the risks that were passed by in pursuit of a more standard story.

All of the voice actors are top-notch and fit the world, though the writing can sometimes veer into referential humor that doesn’t feel right in a medieval fantasy. “Scarface’s” famous line, “say hello to my little friend,” makes a few appearances and throws suspension of disbelief right out the window, along with a “Game of Thrones” quote or two that warrant a groan.

However, one place that “The Dragon Prince” is anything but a standard is in its representation. Katolis is packed full of people of different colors and from different backgrounds, making the characters interesting even if the plot isn’t yet. I’m invested in Callum, Ezran, and Rayla as well as much of the supporting cast, and excited to see where they go from here.

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Should you watch it: Yes, if you can overlook a few problems.

“Avatar” was one of those shows that I grew up with and which is responsible for my abiding love of cartoons. I went into “Dragon Prince” with high hopes, and unfortunately, they weren’t quite met. A beautiful art style, interesting characters and good voice acting don’t entirely make up for odd choices in animation style and a relatively formulaic story.

If you can look past the flaws, there’s something that has potential – it just might need some time to refine itself. It’s a fun watch, even if it isn’t exactly groundbreaking.

Graham Shapley can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @shapleygraham.