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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dragons: Riders of Berk is a TV follow-up to the popular DreamWorks movie How to Train Your Dragon. If you (and they) liked the movie's quirky characters and strong messages about self-confidence and courage, there's plenty more where that came from here, plus bonus lessons in identifying your talents, getting along with others, and opening lines of communication with parents. Hiccup and Astrid are fantastic role models who don't mind standing out from the crowd, and their willingness to stand by their convictions proves to be the difference for their village's survival. Expect some fantasy violence, most of which relates to the dragons' ability to breathe fire, and some scary scenes because of the dragons themselves. But since most of the dragons in the show are friendly from the get-go, the potentially frightening stuff has less impact here than it did in the movie.
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What's the story?
DRAGONS: RIDERS OF BERK is the continuing story of Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and the Vikings of the island of Berk, where a newfound peace with the dragons has changed the face of the village and the lives of its inhabitants. Here Vikings and dragons work and play together, and the job of training the creatures falls to young Hiccup and his pals Astrid (America Ferrera), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut (Julie Marcus), Tuffnut (T.J. Miller), and Snotlout (Zack Pearlman). The trouble is, it seems there are far more dragons out there than the Vikings ever imagined, and training all of them will take a massive team effort. Plus, even with a ceasefire in place, there are other threats to all of Berk's residents, and it's only through cooperation between the two groups that peace will win the day.
Is it any good?
This engaging series is a worthy successor to DreamWorks' well-received How to Train Your Dragon, and it's every bit as enjoyable on the small screen. All of the main characters return, bringing with them some complex relationships that are explored in more depth over the course of the series. In the case of Hiccup and his father, Stoick (Nolan North), this means viewers get to see them make further strides in seeing past their differences to find common ground -- and a new respect for each other. For Hiccup and Astrid, it translates to plenty more awkward instances of affection and a halting crush that reflects the uncertainty of relationships between tweens.
If you're used to seeing Toothless, Hiccup, and the rest of the cast in the movie's impressive 3-D format, then Dragons: Riders of Berk's flat animation might be a bit of a letdown, but happily the quality writing and lovely Nordic scenery will more than compensate. Plus, the promise of new characters -- both human and dragon -- should be enough to maintain kids' interest. As with the movie, it's worth taking a look first if your little kids are sensitive to scary creatures or perilous scenes, but for older kids, this is a terrific series centered on an unlikely hero who makes a name for himself by daring to be different.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes Hiccup unique in Dragons: Riders of Berk. Does he mind being different from the rest of the Vikings? How do his unique qualities become an asset to his village? How do they compensate for what sets him apart from most of the others?
Kids: Where do you notice strong relationships in this story? How do the characters communicate in a way that improves their relationships? How do the characters communicate with the dragons?
Why are there so few female characters in this series? Is Astrid a positive female role model? What do you think are her strongest qualities? How does her character differ from girls and women in other series you've seen?
- Premiere date: August 7, 2012
- Cast: America Ferrera, Jay Baruchel, T.J. Miller
- Network: Cartoon Network
- Genre: Kids' Animation
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- TV rating: TV-PG
- Available on: DVD, Streaming
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