Posted on October 02 2022 by Sean Gadus
Warning: Spoilers for The Dragon Prince Seasons 1 through 3
One of my favorite things about streaming services like Netflix that these services give me the opportunity to explore content that I otherwise might not watch. As a child, I grew up with a limited amount of television channels, and I missed a lot of great animated shows because of it. Netflix was the service where I was first introduced to some of my favorite animated series like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Wars: The Clones Wars, and Star Wars Rebels (this was before Star Wars content migrated to Disney+). It seemed apt that Netflix would be the streaming service where I also discovered The Dragon Prince. Created by Wonderstorm and animated by Bardel Entertainment, the fantasy series has quickly became one of my favorite shows. A sprawling fantasy series, The Dragon Prince‘s mix of humor, thoughtful storytelling, and grand adventure quickly captured my attention, and the show has only grown stronger and deeper across its first three seasons. With Season 4 premiering on Netflix in November, it is a great time to explore what makes the show worth watching, and why it could be the perfect show for fans waiting for Tears of the Kingdom.
Overall, The Dragon Prince captures what I believe is one of the core tenants of the stories presented in the Zelda series: young people going on a journey that will change who they are and how they view the world around them. Almost all Zelda games are focused on young adults or children confronting challenges and taking journeys into the wider world. This is a theme that The Dragon Prince builds its overarching story around. In the opening episode of the show, half brothers and princes Callum and Ezran are torn from their comfortable home, and they set out on a journey to the magical kingdom of Xadia to return a stolen dragon egg to the Dragon Queen. Joined by the teenage Moonshadow elf Rayla, the three companions set out on a journey full of hope, friendship, and pain. This grand adventure is very similar to overarching stories seen in games like Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. As Callum and Ezran, move further from their home, the two princes get to experience the wonders and dangers of the wider world, learn valuable lessons from new friends and enemies, and makes choices that will shape the future.
Interesting and well-developed characters are a key part of what makes films, shows, and video games successful. The richly developed cast of The Dragon Prince are bursting with personality and wit, which gives the audiences a great deal of fun jokes and amusing moments to enjoy. That being said, many of the characters in the show are deeper than meets the eye. The show is focused on a trio of key characters: Callum (age 14), Ezran (age 8), and Rayla (age 15). Each character has a well-develop personality and well-written story arcs.
Callum, who serves as the protagonist and audience surrogate, is a compassionate young man who is a lovable screw up at the start of the show. A talented artist, Callum struggles to fulfill the requirements of a (step) prince alongside his young half-brother Ezran. Callum shoulders the burden of protecting his young brother (and future king) Ezran, even as he is confused by his own place in the world. Still dealing with the tragic death of his mother (whose story is eventually revealed in heartbreaking flashbacks), Callum is determined to protect his brother from the dangers of the wider world, even as it becomes clear that there are some tragedies that he cannot shield Ezran from. Callum’s dream of becoming a mage slowly takes shape over the first three seasons, and his success as a mage gives him a new sense of confidence and contentment.
Young prince Ezran shares many similarities with several versions of Princess Zelda; Ezran and Zelda are both young royals who are struggling to navigate the trials and tribulations of power and authority. The only biological son of King Harrow, Ezran is an intelligent and kind adolescent forced to confront the responsibilities of leadership well before he is prepared for it. Like Princess Zelda in Ocarina of Time and Breath of the Wild, Ezran is required to make difficult choices about not only his own life but also the future of the human kingdom of Katolis. As Ezran slowly matures over the course of the first three seasons, he struggles to find a way to make the difficult decisions required of a ruler without relinquishing his kindness and compassion. In many of these situations, Ezran’s compassion and his desire for peace are confused or misconstrued as weakness by other leaders within the human kingdoms. Ezran has unique ability to bond with animals and magical creatures, a feature that often highlights his kindness and compassion.
Rayla, who is originally part of a group of Moonshadow elves sent to kill Callum and Ezran’s father (King Harrow), joins the two brothers on their quest to take the dragon egg (eventually the titular dragon prince) back to its mother. Rayla sees the mission as a way to redeem her parents for failing to protect the Dragon Queen and her egg in the first place. Though she is a talented warrior, Rayla struggles with the harsh realities of being an assassin, a role she ultimately never fully embraces. While Rayla is gifted with a sharp wit and a kind heart, she struggles with feelings of inadequacy and the lingering fears that she has let her people down by failing as an assassin. One of the strongest episodes in the show focuses on Rayla’s experience returning to her village in Xadia, a beautiful episode that forces the young elf to come to terms with the good and the bad of how her fellow Moonshadow elves have treated her. Just like Zelda in Breath of the Wild, Rayla struggles to understand her own place in the world, and the elf ultimately becomes comfortable and proud of her role as a protector rather than an assassin. Rayla’s playful side is revealed in a reccuring joke when the elf hilariously tries to pass a human, a disguise that is delightfully referred to as “Human Rayla.”
Outside of the main cast, the main antagonist Viren is the most richly developed character in the series. In flashbacks, the audience learns that the powerful mage Viren was once King Harrow’s closest friend and chief advisor, but the pair’s relationship has tragically soured by the first episode of the series. Riddled with guilt and tragic loss, Harrow partially blames Viren’s reliance on dark magic and ceaseless ambition for their current crisis. Viren takes advantage of the tragic inciting incidents of the show’s opening episodes to expand his power and influence. Using Dark Magic, along with hate speech and fear mongering, Viren becomes a ruthless and cunning monarch who strives to wipe out his enemies. The newly anointed ruler gives no thoughts to the physical and emotional damage he does to the people around him, and he often manipulates people like pawns on a chessboards. Aided by the Startouch elf Aaravos, a mysterious being imprisoned in a magical purgatory, plots to unite the humans against the elves and dragons. Over the course of Seasons 2 and 3, Viren and Aaravos settle into a relationship similar to the one Zant and Ganondorf have in Twilight Princess. While Viren is more cunning and capable than Zant is in Twilight Princess, it is clear that his dealing with Aaravos become significantly more than he bargained for. With Season 4 involving a two year time jump, it will be fascinating to see the how the relationship between Viren and Aaravos has changed.
A Well-Designed and Developed Magical World
The art style of the The Dragon Prince is very vibrant and colorful, and the closest equivalents in terms of Zelda game art styles are Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild. The characters that populate The Dragon Prince all have wonderful designs, and they are all very expressive. The artists and animators did an excellent job of making each specific character feel distinct. There are many wonderful side characters for viewers to enjoy like Ezran and Callum’s aunt Amaya, a tough-as-nail warrior who communicates entirely through sign language and body language. The show’s animations, created by Bardel Entertainment, all feel very natural and fluid. As the show has grow in size and scope, the action sequences have become more intricate and detailed, including a “Helm’s Deep” style siege near the end of Season 3.
Going along with the art style and character design is a richly developed world. In the world of The Dragon Prince, magical creatures are deeply connected to one of six primal sources of magic power (the moon, sky, sun, earth, ocean, and stars) this connection gives them ability to do extraordinary things. In contrast, humans were more vulnerable than other species because they are born without any connections to the primal sources. Because of this, human beings could not perform magic on their own. The balance of the continent began to shift when humans discovered Dark Magic. A spellcaster using Dark Magic must use the lifeforce of a living thing as fuel for their spell. In retribution for what the elves and dragons considered heresy and sacrilege, the humans tribes were banished to the western half of the vast continent, destined to be forever separated from the lush bounty of Xadia (the eastern half of the continent). The scars of this ancient schism run deep in the present-day story of The Dragon Prince. Both the humans and Xadians feel intense distrust for the each other, and some humans like the calculating Viren hunger to expand their power and territory into the forbidden land of Xadia.
The story of The Dragon Prince opens in the human kingdom of Katolis, which is ruled by Ezran’s father King Harrow. The human kingdom of Katolis has medieval castles and bustling towns reminiscent of places like Hyrule Castle Town in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. As the show progresses, it gradually takes viewers further into the world surrounding Callum and Ezran’s home kingdom. As the heroes moves east toward Xadia, the show gives the audience more diverse settings to enjoy including portside towns, snowy villages, and mysterious mountaintop ruins. The second and third seasons expand the story into the other human Kingdoms, and these seasons also explore Katolis’ place as the largest and most powerful human kingdom. In contrast to the traditional medieval look of the human kingdoms, Xadia (seen in its full glory in Season 3) is filled with sprawling mystical forests, vast deserts, and titanic mountains that Zelda fans are sure to enjoy. Two highlights of Xadia are the Sunfire elves’ vast, gleaming capital of Lux Aurea and the Dragon Queen’s mountain home dubbed “Storm Spire”.
Powerful Moments That All Audiences Can Connect With
Overall, one of the strengths of The Dragon Prince is the show’s ability to tell a moving story that transcends age limits. While the show is full of quirky humor and delightful characters, the shows also deals with mature topics like regret and revenge. The trials and tribulations of growing up are a key part of the Zelda series, and fans can see elements of Link and Zelda in the young cast of characters in The Dragon Prince. Callum, Ezran, and Rayla, (along with side characters Soren, and Claudia) all fit neatly into the age groups that Link and Zelda are in the Zelda games. One of Wonderstorm’s great achievements with The Dragon Prince is crafting young characters that react to their physical and emotional tribulations in realistic and nuanced ways. Sometimes characters use humor to mask their disappointment or pain, other times characters lash out with frustration and anger to hide their feeling, and in some of the most powerful moments of the show, we see the sadness and pain expressed as tears.
Over its first three season, The Dragon Prince has slowly filled in the backstory of the world and its older human characters, revealing the full depths of the tragedies that are the inciting incidents for the assassination attempt on King Harrow (seen in the first two episodes). Throughout the course of the show, the audience gradually begins to understand that many of the adult characters have trapped by the sins of the past, and they even use revenge as a way to deal with their grief and pain. In flashbacks, the audience learns that the Dragon King killed Callum and Ezran’s mother (Queen Sari) after the human tried to retrieve the heart of a magma titan to avoid famine and starvation in other human kingdoms. The tragic death of Callum and Ezran’s mother ultimately leads to another terrible act of violence: King Harrow killing the Dragon King in retribution. Like many stories focused on adolescents, Callum, Ezra, and Rayla are trying to challenge norms and expectations of the world. Born in a distrustful and xenophobic age, the young characters struggle to leave the burdens of the past behind.
The show also explores the complexities of families with Soren and Claudia, two key supporting characters who are the children of the villainous Viren. The pair open the show as jovial siblings who have a strong relationship with Callum and Ezran. The two siblings, one a dark mage and the other a member of the king’s guard, have some of the funniest banter in the show. Through dialogue, the show slowly teases out some of the reasons why Soren and Claudia are so close including the fact that the two children struggled deeply when their parents’ divorced. The two children were caught up in the middle of the divorce, and they were ask to choose who they wanted to live with. Ultimately, their mother decided not to separate the two children, and she agreed to let them both live with their father. Both characters feel the absence of their mother in their lives, and they turned to each other for support. Tragically, the strong siblings bond that exists between Soren and Claudia at the beginning of the show is slowly torn apart as the two characters must reckon with their father’s choices and ambition. The two characters ultimately end up on different sides of the grand conflict despite their deep love and affection for each other.
Conclusion – Watch This Show!
The Dragon Prince is one of the best all-ages animated shows to premiere over the past decade. Like the Legend of Zelda series and exceptional television series like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Star Wars Rebels, The Dragon Prince charts the growth of young people taking their place in a larger world. Filled with well-developed characters and a rich fantasy setting, the show is a treat for anyone looking for something new to watch. With Tears of the Kingdom still months away from release, it is a great time for Zelda fans to dive into amazing worlds outside of Hyrule. With only nine episodes per season, the show is a relatively light commitment for people with a long video game, film, and television backlog. If you or your family want to dive into a rich fantasy world suitable for all audiences, then The Dragon Prince is the show for you.
Legendary Pictures is a series that focuses on tales from across film and television history that share the same DNA as The Legend of Zelda, where we discuss a film or show’s strengths and identify similarities to the various games in the Zelda series.
Sean Gadus is a Senior Editor at Zelda Dungeon. His first Zelda game was Ocarina of Time and he loves all of the 3D Zelda games from 1998-2011. He wants to help build a kinder, more compassionate world. You can check out his other written work at The-Artifice.com.