What Makes for a Spiritual Successor? : “The Dragon Prince” May be Netflix’s Next Big Thing

By Erin Caine

Lifestyle Editor

Netflix-commissioned original content has been a long list of hits and misses. The first “Netflix original series,” 2013’s “House of Cards,” garnered enough buzz and general praise to convince them to keep going, and so they turned out other hits like “Sense8,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Stranger Things,” and “One Day at a Time.” At the same time, however, they also released some serious critical flops — “Iron Fist,” “Fuller House,” and “Friends from College,” to name a few.

Their ventures into animation are no different, ranging from popular and well-received series like “Voltron: Legendary Defender” and “BoJack Horseman,” to series that either picked up controversy or were panned outright, such as “Big Mouth” and “Neo Yokio.”

Though their adult animated shows are still fairly scarce, Netflix has put out a large number of series aimed at children since 2013. Even so, it seems only the “Voltron” reboot has managed to make any impact so far, likely because its more mature themes and detailed animation style (from Studio Mir, known for animating “The Legend of Korra”) appeal to a broader demographic of viewers.

That widespread appeal is something Netflix seems to be trying to tap into with one of its latest projects, “The Dragon Prince,” which premiered Sept. 14.

“Dragon Prince” has been advertised as a kind of “spiritual successor” to the 2005 Nickelodeon fantasy series, “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which is still celebrated for its complex storytelling, stunning artwork, and powerful themes seldom touched by children’s entertainment before or after it.

The reason many might expect some of those same qualities from “Dragon Prince” is because, as Hypable’s Michal Schick puts it, it has “good genes.”

Former “Avatar” episode director Giancarlo Volpe and episode writer Aaron Ehasz are at the helm of this new show. Not to mention, voice actor Jack DeSena, who many will recognize for his role as Sokka in “Avatar,” voices the lead, Callum, in “Dragon Prince.” Schick goes on to say that the show is “evocative of precisely the kind of epic storytelling that ‘Avatar’ crafted so deftly — a richly thematic adventure that will encourage viewers to feel and think in equal measure, with plenty of laughs along the way.”

Many still have their doubts about whether or not the show can ultimately live up to the hype. Amongst animation fans, a major source of contention has been whether or not three-dimensional computer animation is to a show’s detriment or not.

The popularity of shows like the 3D-animated web series “RWBY” have managed to put a dent in this stigma, but there’s still no denying that there’s something breathtaking about “Avatar’s” organic look (many of the characters’ movements used real martial artists as models) and hand-painted backgrounds.

“Dragon Prince,” together with the upcoming “She-Ra” reboot and eighth season of “Voltron,” seems to be signaling Netflix’s shift in attention to accessible animated entertainment and “epic” stories that will get people of any age emotionally invested in the journey, as “Avatar” managed to do over a decade ago. It doesn’t hurt to hit viewers with a little nostalgia, as well.

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