DreamWorks Dragons: ‘Riders of Berk’ and ‘Defenders of Berk’ are family-friendly for dragon lovers

As a dragon lady, of course I love dragons and “DreamWorks Dragons” is a wonderful example of computer animation with a heartfelt story of family, friends and cross-species communication.

“DreamWorks Dragons” is the Cartoon Network TV series follow-up to the Oscar-nominated 2010 movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” Hiccup has gained his father’s respect, changed the way his community of Berk islanders relates to dragons and gotten positive attention from his crush, Viking girl Astrid.

Now that his gang all are dragon riders, life in their village of Berk needs a few adjustments. In “Riders of Berk Part I” Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless face several problems because it’s not easy living with dragons and it’s also not easy being a teen. Hiccup stars a Dragon Academy (“How to Start a Dragon Academy”), but the dragons frighten the more ordinary domesticated animals (“Animal House”) and cause damage (“In Dragons We Trust”), but they also are hated by grumpy Berk resident Mildew (Stephen Root). Mildew plots to have the dragons expelled from Berk and rival Vikings, the Outsiders, are introduced.

Alvin the Treacherous (Mark Hamill) leads the Outcast Tribe on a raid of the Berk island in order to find the Dragon Conqueror (“Alvin and the Outcasts”). There’s also a parallel with the dragons as Toothless is shown to have his own enemy: a Whispering Death.

In Part II, having driven the Outcast tribe away, Hiccup teaches his father Stoick how to ride, using Toothless, but each person must have their own dragon “How to Pick Your Dragon”) and Stoick (Nolan North) eventually finds a dragon suitable for his personality. This brings Hiccup and his father closer together, but Stoick still wishes he had a son who was more like a traditional warrior and less the slender geek that is his son (“Portrait of Hiccup as a Buff Man”).

Astrid (America Ferrera) and Hiccup have a few awkward moments together, but they each are growing in respect to each other, yet the sudden appearance of another girl named Heather, causes Astrid to become jealous. Yet credit the writers for not so easily dismissing Heather as an evil person. Astrid ends up helping Heather (“Heather Report”) as the threat of Alvin and the Outcasts reappears.

Astrid also helps Hiccup grow emotionally. When Hiccup has the opportunity to show up Snotlout (Zack Pearlman), her disappointment in Hiccup’s behavior helps him remain humble (“Thawfest”).

At the end of the season (20 March 2013), Hiccup attempts to find Toothless’ family when he learns about an island where Night Furies nest, but his information is false and he and Toothless are trapped and held captive by Alvin and the Outcasts.

The 20 episodes of Season 1 are all fun and filled with humor and lots of dragons and dragon lore to appreciate. As always, despite all the faults of each character, the stories emphasize that each one brings something valuable to the group.

The second season the dragon riders become “Defenders of Berk.”

“Defenders of Berk” begins where “Riders of Berk” leaves off. The people of Berk ready to defend themselves against Alvin and the Outcasts (“Live and Let Fly”), but they are surprised at Alvin’s tactics and the continue to learn more about dragons–new species and even their own mounts.  Of course, the good lessons include the importance of each team member and teamwork.

Fishlegs and his Gronckle, Meatlug, accidentally discover a new metal alloy which is lighter and sturdy (“The Iron Gronckle”). Fishlegs helps Gobber at a time when Meatlug’s slow flight pace is criticized by the rest of the dragon flying gang. Ultimately, Hiccup and the others realize that Fishlegs goes slow enough to study the geography and map out their discoveries. They want him back on their patrols and a few new tools are made with the Gronckle iron that Fishlegs has no idea how to make again.

While on a training exercise devised by Astrid (“The Night and the Fury”), the Defenders of Berk are on Dragon Island and run into Dagur the Deranged who is not focused on dragon hunting and Dagur learns their secret–they don’t hunt dragons, the people of Berk train them.

Alvin and the Outkasts haven’t gone away and they bring Berk a present that causes their well to run dry (“Tunnel Vision”). At the same time, Hiccup and his friends meet Whispering Death hatchlings and learn about a new type of dragon: Screaming Death (“Appetite for Destruction”).

Snotlout learns that sometimes he knows better than his father when his dragon becomes sick and they must find a cure for an exhaustion sickness (“Race to Fireworm Island”). Toothless also becomes sick during this season from eel pox (“The Eel Effect”), but don’t let that put you off of eating eels. The past comes to haunt Astrid when she seeks to find a ghostly dragon that caused her uncle to freeze in terror (“Fright of Passage”). She’s fighting for her family honor, but needs the help of her friends. Other dragons include the swift Speed Stingers (“Frozen” without the musical talents of Idina Menzel) and the lightning-powered Skrill (“A View to a Skrill”).

Throughout, the threat of Alvin and the Outkasts, Dagur and Mildew is always in the background until the last two episodes in which Hiccup learns something about his father and Hiccup and Snotlout come to a better understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In both seasons, we are reminded that Hiccup is also in training to some day be chief.

Both “Rider of Berk” and “Defenders of Berk” are available as DVD sets. Subtitles are available in Spanish and French.

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