The Dragon Prince is marching toward war. Wonderstorm’s debut CGI-animated fantasy series hatched with promises in season one, paid off in serious sensations in season two, and now it’s wrapping up a chapter with a package of nine episodes.
This review contains some spoilers for the new season.
Prince Callum (Jack DeSena) and his elven friend Rayla (Paula Burrows) have finally crossed into the magical territory of Xadia to return the baby Dragon Prince, Zym, to the Dragon Queen in hopes of ending warfare between humans and magical beings. Meanwhile, the young Prince Ezran (Sasha Rojen) returns to his kingdom of Katolis to take up the vacant throne after learning of his father’s death, hoping to quell the political situation in the human kingdoms and inspire peace. Despite the bounty of jelly tarts, he finds kingship is not all cracked up to be, facing a neighboring royal who wants to force his hand into war in Xadia. Even by the time Ezran is cornered into a political bargain and makes a sacrifice—to Frederik Wiedmann’s somber death march for King Harrow back in season one—his decision sees its own blowback.
The shady and zealous warlock Lord Viren (Jason Simpson), an extremist who tells himself he does good for his human world, is imprisoned for treason, but convenient circumstances allow him to rise beyond his chains. Viren’s two good-hearted but misled children, Claudia (Racquel Belmonte) and Soren (Jesse Inocalla), return to him, having failed their respective assignments: for Claudia, to bring home the Dragon Prince, and for Soren, to murder the princes. Soren has come clean to Claudia about his father’s murderous intentions for Harrow’s prince sons. But just when Claudia is on the brink of reckoning with her father’s villainy, he feeds her another deception she can’t help but believe.
Regarding the political situation that arises in Katolis, I am the most conflicted with the result of Ezran’s sacrifice. While the arc invests in the court’s opinion of Ezran’s rule, the broad consensus among its common people and soldiers to accept his deposing comes somewhat out of left field. While Viren has been a persuasive orator at rallying xenophobic insecurities in previous seasons, it is a vague just how the kingdom and its military as a whole accepted the transfer of kingship (other than the few exceptions seen defiantly throwing down the sword). Had a kingdom consensus about the war and xenophobia been better planted, the tragedy of the payoff would have been more convincing.
But the wonder is the strongest point of The Dragon Prince, its desire to tantalize in magical procedures, especially where communication across barriers is concerned, such as when Rayla, a pariah rendered invisible to her hometown (called “a ghost”) is nearly able to speak with an adoptive guardian only through reflections. We also observe the cryptic Aavaros (Erik Todd Dellums), the mysterious elf from the mirror prison who seduces Viren into a deal-with-the-devil alliance. He seems to be emerging into tangibility, at first communicating to Viren through a crawly. But then he—through his crawly—knits himself into visibility to one of Viren’s eyes. There are other twinkles of the fantastical, such as when the elf assassins release lotuses with crystals into a fountain that will signal to their loved ones at home if they survived or not.
Certain complexities about human-and-magic relationships come forward. The opener throws us into a “history is not what it seems” look into the complicated relationships between humans, magical creatures, and what is often called Dark Magic. In addition, fans who wanted more elves will get their wish answered, with an exploration of an elven kingdom and the development of the Sunfire Elf, Janai (Rena Anakwe), initially a voiceless enemy in season two and now evolved into fan-favorite General Amaya’s unexpected ally.
I did not find a moment in season 3 that matched King Harrow’s tearjerking message-from-beyond-the-grave letter to Callum, but that’s unfair since that’s a high bar. There are still some gut-punchers. The characters remain as likable as ever, with Rayla dealing with survivor’s guilt and specters of her past, Callum learning to respect Rayla’s choices, Callum and Rayla facing their burgeoning feelings, Ezran weighting out his kingly responsibilities, and Soren and Claudia reckoning with their loyalties. Then we are made witnesses to a horrible past, where the typically mellow King Harrow lapses into the act of vengeance that has consequences for both sides. And if you loved the comedic gold of Human-Rayla in the previous seasons, well, you got your Elf-Callum.
Other than a few road bumps in synthesizing the court intrigue, romance, politics, and angst, brick-by-brick every element builds to a moving maelstrom of swords, arrows, and fire. Someone makes a rallying speech in the penultimate episode before the stormy battle. His gaze burns at the camera as he delivers pointed words that feels geared toward children in the Trumpian era as much as it is addressing its own context. As the third season of The Dragon Prince closes on a hopeful note, a visceral threat is still sprouting. Optimistic as the ending is, I consider how a majority of common soldiers reacted to Ezran’s sacrifice and Viren’s crowning. There remain questions to how the human and magical societies will handle the new world order.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10
Note: As some fans may be aware of, the publicity of this season has been overshadowed by recent social media testimonies alleging a history of abusive behavior from the show’s creator Aaron Ehsaz. Two former Wonderstorm employees, Danika Harrod and Lulu Younes, stepped up on Twitter and testified about the emotional and psychological effects of Wonderstorm’s toxic environment conducted by Ehsaz, which can be read here and here, with additional corroboration of Ehasz’s behavior here. Ehasz addressed the allegations as “distorted or exaggerated,” without an apology or promise to resolve these issues. These testimonies are not meant to dissuade anyone from experiencing The Dragon Prince or abandon regard for those who worked on the production aside from Ehasz. None of the three women are calling for boycotts, only change. Indeed, for a production like The Dragon Prince to aim for progressive strides, it must maintain a healthy work environment for its marginalized members.
The post ‘The Dragon Prince’ Season 3 Review: Netflix’s Animated Fantasy Series Marches to War appeared first on /Film.
Source: Slash Film