ANNECY – “This changes everything,” “How to Train Your Dragon” hero Hiccup (once more voiced by Jay Baruchel) mysteriously announces at the opening credit roll climax of DreamWorks Animation TV’s new series spinoff, “Dragons: Race to the Edge,” as he brandishes an emblazoned metal cylinder with a light-shaft.
He’s referring the cylinder, soon known as the Dragon Eye, but he could have been talking about the migration of “How To’s” smaller screen riff from Cartoon Network to Netflix that exclusively releases the first 13-seg season of “Race” on June 26, as part of its groundbreaking multiyear deal with DreamWorks Animation.
The Netflix impact is clear to see from the get-go of “Race to the Edge,” which had its European premiere Tuesday at Annecy Fest, the world’s biggest animation meet, with DreamWorks Animation head of television Margie Cohn fielding questions at a Q&A, after a screening of “Race’s” first two episodes of the new series, the latest iteration of one of DreamWorks Animations’ most beloved franchises.
“DreamWorks Dragons,” the first TV spinoff, which played Cartoon Network, was episodic in nature, turning on Berk’s challenged co-habitation with its dragons. “Race to the Edge” underscores immediately its more serialized nature, announcing that its first seg is “Dragon Eye of the Beholder Part One.”
An action suspense drama with comedic interludes, if its first two episodes screened at Annecy are anything to go by, “Race to the Edge” episode one and two are written by F.M. de Marco, John Tellegen, Jack Thomas and exec producers Ari Brown and Douglas Sloan. Chad Hammes produces, Elaine Bogan directs, as on Episode two, where Brown and Sloan take on writing duties. Directors on further episodes include Robert Briggs, David Jones, Jae Hong Kim, Simon Otto, John Sanford, TJ Sullivan, Greg Rankin and Gil Zimmerman.
“Race to the Edge” unspools about a year before the action in “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” said Cohn.
A story of young adults aimed at young adults, one of Netlix’s natural demos, “Race to the Edge” captures Hiccup on the often-challenged, halting odyssey to full adulthood.
Hiccup is still looking to pursue his adolescent dream of charting all the dragons on the archipelago as his retinue settling down: Even Astrid suggests she might join the Berk Guard.
“’Race to the Edge’ is a kind of prequel to ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2.’ In the Cartoon Network series, the kids are still young; here they’re young adults,” Cohn explained.
She added: “In ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2,’ Hiccup and his friends are already grown ups so we built a story previous to the events of the second movie to show how they reach the way they appear in the second movie.”
The edge of the title is a geographic point far from Berk where the kids set up a kind of outpost. “It’s rather like kids going to college, going far from home, figuring out their pace in the world,” Cohn commented. “Adults make appearances in ‘Race to the Edge’ but they’re not so present.
Presaging this near geographic allegory for leaving home, episodes one and two take the Dragon Riders away from an idyllic Berk, which has spawned some suburbs to more inhospitable climes: A gloomy fog-shrouded ships graveyard, an inclement iceberg island, inhabited by a white dragon that steals up on its victims.
As befits a series that might be binge viewed, “Race to the Edge” goes out in early summer vacation, potentially to be watched on smaller screens than the TV set, such as iPhones. Bogan’s directorial style is muscular, with the camera following Hiccup and Toothless as they swoop over Berk in the opening credits. Scene shots emphasize dramatic diagonals.
And episode one’s credit roll already anticipates but hardly fully explains the season’s central suspense driver: The Dragon Eye which, aided by dragon Toothless shooting blue plasma bolts, creating a light beam, casts mysterious patterns on a wall, rather like a primitive projector.
With Dagur the Deranged reappearing in episode one, sporting the bushiest of brown eyebrows and irrepressible villainy, and a keen interest in the same strange cylinder, the Dragon Eye is “the center of ‘Race to the Edge’s” story structure,” Cohn said.
Episodes one and two are cases in point. In the first, Hiccup and his crew discover the Dragon Eye on a ghostly ship. In episode two, they fly to an icy island with Gothi in tow to secure the tooth of its Alien-jawed Snow Wraith dragon in order to unlock the Eye.
“We are assuming consumers will want to watch ‘Race to the Edge’ in a linear kind of way. So we definitely want it a little bit more serialized, with a more sophisticated story structure. We are really trying to distinguish the Netflix series from the Cartoon Network series,” Cohn said.
“Some things that happen are resolved at the end of each episode, but there’s a narrative line that goes through the series, so that you can have a richer experience while watching it.”