‘Dragons: Riders of Berk’ spreads its wings on Cartoon Network
In “How to Train Your Dragon,” the 2010 film from DreamWorks Animation, a skinny viking teen named Hiccup discovers that dragons can be taught and tamed, a lot like dogs, except that these dogs are 30 feet across and breathe fire. By the end of the film, vikings and dragons, who began the movie trying to brain each other, are best pals.
As with so many other stories of star-crossed, interspecies pairings, from “The Adventures of Milo and Otis” to “Avatar,” one wonders just where this relationship will go.
That question is answered in the new animated series “Dragons: Riders of Berk,” which is being produced by DreamWorks Animation for Cartoon Network. The series, which premiered Tuesday, begins where the critically acclaimed 3-D feature left off: back on the impossibly scenic island of Berk, where vikings and dragons are working out the kinks in their newly formed friendship.
Two groups of oversized carnivores, one tiny island: The kinks, as one might imagine, are enormous. With no vikings trying to kill them, the dragons are devouring the local crops, then emptying their bowels midflight, as large flying beasts are wont to do, on the human populace.
Gobber, the island’s newly unemployed armorer, is reduced to selling his dragon-killing arsenal as kitchenware. Young Hiccup is given the task of leading a dragon training academy, not so much to domesticate the beasts — good luck with that! — but rather to find some way for viking and dragon to live together peaceably.
“It’s not an owner-pet relationship,” says Peter Gal, head of animation at DreamWorks. “Even though they’re friendly now, they can still be really destructive and dangerous.”
Reprising his role as Hiccup is Jay Baruchel, who leads a voice cast that includes America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tim Conway, David Faustino and Mark Hamill.
“We had people wanting to do the show who were huge actors,” says Doug Sloan, who, alongside Art Brown, is one of the series’ show runners. Much of the film’s cast is returning for the series, which serves as a 40-episode bridge between the 2010 film and its 2014 sequel.
Of course, there was no way for show producers to completely match the grand spectacle of the Oscar-nominated film, with its $165-million budget and enormous crew of animators. Because of the difficulties of creating CGI-rendered fur, for example, the film’s original fur vests were replaced with leather ones; designers also eliminated the village chieftain’s regal cape because of all that bothersome flapping and billowing.
“Cape flapping is very complicated in animation,” says Gal.
And of course, there are all those cool dragons, which, when they’re not raiding storehouses and setting fire to the local livestock, are wicked fun to ride. In the opening episodes, we see the dragons loop and dive above the island of Berk like so many grinning, frolicking F-14s.
“When you watch the kids fly away on their dragons at the end of the movie, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, they get to fly dragons every day now,’” says Sloan. “How great is that?”
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