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Review: 'Dragons: Riders of Berk' is TV with big-screen quality

'Dragons: Riders of Berk,' a Cartoon Network series, follows the movie 'How to Train Your Dragon,' retaining its personality and Jay Baruchel, voice of Hiccup.

September 03, 2012|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) takes to the sky with his loyal companion Toothless.
Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) takes to the sky with his loyal companion… (Cartoon Network )

First it was the penguins of "Madagascar" and then the animal warriors of "Kung Fu Panda" on Nickelodeon, now it's the cast of DreamWorks' "How to Train Your Dragon" on Cartoon Network. "Dragons: Riders of Berk," which premieres Tuesday, is the latest small-screen incarnation of a successful animated film to retain both the personality and production value of its progenitor.

But unlike its predecessors, it plays more like sequel than spinoff. (Although a cinematic sequel is also in the works.)

Although "Dragons" is not available in 3-D like the movie, it too is produced by DreamWorks, which means it looks pretty dang spectacular even by today's standards. It's so crisply drawn and fluid that a person of a certain age would be forgiven for wondering how on earth we survived with things like "Scooby-Doo" and "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop," in which mouths moved independently of words and every character moved like they were on a conveyor belt rather than their feet.

Not that I would hold any show to the iconic "Scooby-Doo." "Dragons" does, however, promise to be lively and entertaining, with great visuals of dragons swooping and soaring.

Its stories, set on the viking-settled island of Berk, speak of tolerance and the value of withholding judgment. There the human denizens have made friends with their centuries-old foes, the dragons.

But where the film intimated a "happily ever after" denouement, the series is a bit more realistic. The vikings may have become friends with the dragons but, as Our Hero Hiccup (voiced here, as in the film, by "She's Out of My League's" Jay Baruchel) informs us in a deadpan way "we forgot to tell the animals."

The pilot is built around the sheep, oxen and chickens, which supply the population with much of its food, but remain terrified of the dragons. So much so that they are not producing eggs and milk.

Hiccup's clan chieftain Dad (Nolan North, replacing Gerard Butler) may have mellowed after his son's near-death, leg-amputating experience in the film, but he remains fairly cranky. With good reason; a winter storm is brewing early ("but it's still only winter," Hiccup protests, "terrible winter isn't due for a couple of months yet") and with a dwindling food supply, the vikings are ill-equipped to face it.

Needless to say, Hiccup and his trusty band, including warrior princess Astrid (America Ferrera), set out to make things right, which they do. Eventually.

Toothless, the rare Night Fury dragon that began the whole rapprochement, remains one of the best-looking original critters to come off an animator's desk in a long time, though he does owe his existence, as do all of Berk's citizenry, to novelist Cressida Cowell. There are 10 books in her series, which should keep us in episodes, and sequels, for years to come.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

'Dragons: Riders of Berk'

Where: Cartoon Network

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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