DreamWorks Dragons: Rescue Riders, the newest spinoff of How to Train Your Dragon, is a light (and largely unambitious) series that repositions the franchise as a more cartoonish show for younger kids.
Rescue Riders centers around young dragons who have formed a rescue team to help others of their kind, and their two human friends, Leila and Dak. After saving the Huttsgalore village chief Duggard, the group is given a home in the community, and begins to protect humans as well. The chief hook of the series is that Leila and Dak were taken in by a mother dragon when they were younger, and have been raised alongside a hodgepodge of dragons. This has given them the ability to communicate directly with dragons, who they see as family.
This conceit allows the show's dragons to have as much personality as its human characters, enabling them to more easily stand out to the less sophisticated audience that the show is designed for. Although none of the characters are particularly deep, they are charming in their own ways, with little touches of personality showing through their assigned archetypes. Overall, though, the show is most concerned with showcasing the different types of dragons and their abilities.
The show trades the more mature storytelling and complicated characters of the How to Train Your Dragon series for a largely unconnected story about the Rescue Riders and their missions across their new island home. The series is episodic, with a new goal each episode and ending that wraps up with a simple but nice moral. This works well as a solid bedrock for simple lessons for young viewers.
The closest thing the series has to an overarching villain is Magnus, a bumbling but vindictive inventor who often finds himself at odds with the Rescue Riders. Yet, even the few genuine threats to the dragons are treated with a jokey tone and light touch. So, even the most threatening moments feel innocuous while being just goofy enough to appeal to younger children. The supporting humans within the village are likewise lightweight but inoffensive, and the adventures are often less dangerous and more amusing.
Still, there's enough craft in the show to make it enjoyable for what it is: a simple but fun fantasy adventure. While there are some repetitive sequences, the people behind the series have clearly put some attention into the more action-packed sequences. The show is at its best during scenes where the dragons engage in combat or fly through hazards. And as the series continues, more and more dragons are introduced, allowing the world to expand.
There's a genuine sense of wonder at the core of the How to Train Your Dragon movies, which is luckily still front and center in this new show. Rescue Riders isn't concerned with the more dramatic elements of its parent franchise, instead primarily focusing on fun designs and bright colors. The show never aims to be anything other than what it is, which is a breezy kids' show. And in that regard, it's a genuinely fun success. While it lacks the depth of the movies, Rescue Riders is a charming show for younger fans of How to Train Your Dragon.
The first season of Dragons: Rescue Riders is scheduled to begin streaming to Netflix Sept. 27.