Created by the same writers as Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, The Dragon Prince has strong ties to its predecessors, but lacks the creativity to set itself apart.
The central theme — young protagonists embarking on a great adventure against the wishes of their adult counterparts creates an endearing story that harkens back to what made shows like The Last Airbender great, but there isn’t enough of a change from the Avatar series for The Dragon Prince to recapture that greatness.
After humans were separated from elves for using dark magic, a dragon and a volcano guarded a border between the races. The humans retaliated by slaying the dragon and destroying its only egg, creating an inevitable war. Callum and Ezran, sons of the human king, must team up with a young moonshadow elf, Rayla, when they discover a possible way to prevent the war.
Interesting animals such as chameleon-toads and spirit-stealing snakes populate the familiar world, as do the creative weapons wielded by moonshadow elves.
But the familiarity is almost too pervasive — even the show’s format feels tired. Right down to the format of referring to seasons as “books” and episodes as “chapters,” the nostalgia factor is in full effect.
The animation is beautiful in its concept with striking landscapes, ornate castles and unique creatures. Character movement, on the other hand, feels wonky. It seems like frames are missing when characters engage in combat or clunkily gesture while talking. Whether a side effect of the animation style or a conscious decision, the often-distracting movement detracts from the story.
Even though the adventure takes several episodes to really get started, there isn’t much time to get to know characters or the universe well enough to become invested in the journey. Other than an introductory explanatory segment in the first chapter, there is little for an audience to hold onto.
Said segment manages to squeeze in a history of magic, sources of magic and the relationship between dragons and elves in a normal-length episode. The introduction moves too quickly, and the adventure too slowly, which is an unfortunate combination — especially for a show aimed primarily at children.
What is sure to attract some to The Dragon Prince is the same thing which makes the show disappointing: It’s basically just Avatar: The Last Airbender with dragons and elves. There’s little exciting and nothing really revolutionary, which may be an unfair metric since The Last Airbender is a tough act to follow.
Netflix likely has more seasons — or books — planned for the show, which may allow the creators to spend more time letting the audience get to know the characters and the world. Until then, The Dragon Prince is just a passable effort.