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Dragons in the Modern Day: Ahoy!
'Dragons: The Nine Realms' flies to the rescue on Hulu and Peacock TV. Also: 'Sing 2' tunes into movie theaters.
Now Streaming: Dreamworks Animation, which has never released a successful movie it didn't want to turn into an ongoing series, flies to the rescue of single adults who are feeling beleaguered by holiday fare, releasing Dragons: The Nine Realms on not one, but two streaming services (Hulu and Peacock TV) this week.
Earlier this month, I sampled Dragons Rescue Riders: Heroes of the Sky on Peacock TV, which is fine for what it is, targeted at pre-teens and featuring spry 3D animation and witty dialogue, but it's not really for me. That series is part of the How to Train Your Dragon media franchise, which includes feature films (3), short films (5), and small-screen series (1 before it), which are all based on Cressida Cowell's series of children's books (12), first published in 2003.
The video games (12) are outside the scope of this article, yet they show the enduring appeal of friendly dragons and the young humans they befriend, which has been modernized in Dragons: The Nine Realms. Set in the present day, the series follows 14-year-old Tom (voiced by Jeremy Shada) as he arrives at his new home with his mother, Olivia (voiced by Julia Stiles).
The prelude speaks about myths about dragons, while also hinting at the feature films and their setting on the Viking island of Berk, centuries ago. To make clear that the series is set in the modern day, however, we join Tom and Olivia as she pilots a helicopter to their mountainous new home in an unidentified region of the world, where Olivia is credited for predicting a miles-deep fissure -- deeper than the Marianas Trench -- that her team of scientific researchers is tasked with mapping and exploring.
Olivia works for a mysterious corporation that has settled into an elaborate new camp at the top of the fissure, complete with comfortable private domes for employees and their families to live in. Tom joins three other children, who are all his age: Jun (Ashley Liao), who he first met some years in the past and whose mother runs the facility; D'Angelo (Marcus Scriber), whose father is head of security; and Alex (Aimee Garcia), who has two mothers.
Tom disobeys the rules, immediately gets into trouble, comes to someone's rescue, gets into more trouble, discovers a friendly dragon, and decides he must keep this a secret from his beloved mother; he trusts her, but not the Evil Corporation. (It's not clear at this point that the corporation is actually Evil or simply misguided, so I'm only hazarding a guess as to its intentions.)
The series devotes one episode to each of the four youngest characters, as they each are fleshed out and find their own personal friendly dragon. (Spoiler!) (Actually, not a spoiler, since the opening credit sequence that begins with Episode 2 gives this away.) Marked by witty dialogue that rarely plays down to the heroes' ages, the series is filled with a cavalcade of action, much of it flying, and a brisk pace.
John Tellegen serves as showrunner; he wrote and produced for the earlier Dragons small-screen series, as well as various Power Rangers series. One of the things I like about Dragons: The Nine Realms is that it doesn't require any previous knowledge of the books, movies, or series, and leaves a lot of room open for the future.
Consisting of six episodes, each running under 25 minutes, Dragons: The Nine Realms is bright, fun, and appealing to watch. Note that the series is currently available on two streaming services; I watched it on Peacock TV, where the ad breaks were not intrusive or overly frequent. [Hulu / Peacock TV]
Current Cinema: I will always pay attention to whatever Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow) directs, even what that leads to personal disappointment, such as with Sing, his "bland animated musical." (I cannot deny that I wrote this less than positive review five years ago.) So I ask myself, am I a glutton for punishment? Why did I choose to watch the sequel in advance?
Perhaps because my expectations were set so low, or perhaps my stroke last year left my critical faculties permanently damaged, I thoroughly enjoyed Sing 2. Matthew McConaughey returns as the voice of a would-be impresario, this time trying to strike success for a new stage musical production in the big city, where he secures funding from a gangster-ish businessman (Bobby Canavale, whose voice I love) on the promise that he can lure a legendary rock star (Bono) out of permanent retirement.
It's very silly, but I'm a sucker for dazzling 3D animation these days, plus who could ever imagine that songs by U2 would be featured in an animated movie for children with the singer voicing a lion and singing one of his songs? We live in a very strange world. Thank you, Garth Jennings. [Now playing in movie theaters via Illumination Entertainment.]