Are you watching The Dragon Prince? You should watch The Dragon Prince. It’s the holidays, give yourself a gift. The gift is The Dragon Prince. You can binge all three available seasons in a day. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It’s a great cooking companion. It’s an excellent addition to your yearly fantasy marathon. It will keep you from setting fire to the kitchen if your big oven-baked protein doesn’t cook right.
You may think I’m overselling this. I’m really not. You can go ahead, and I’ll wait here.
Presuming that you’ve now seen all of The Dragon Prince… how about that finale, eh?
[Spoilers for The Dragon Prince season 3]
It’s not all that surprising that The Dragon Prince keeps getting better and better given its pedigree. Avatar: The Last Airbender was a sea change of a series in terms of what animated fantasy shows could pull off, a story full of complex worldbuilding, sharp characters, and excellent scripts. Given that two alumni from A:TLA are in charge of The Dragon Prince, the quality of the show doesn’t come as a shock. But now that the television landscape has become considerably more crowded—and now spiritual successors of Avatar’s ilk (Steven Universe, She-Ra, Gravity Falls) make up some of the best stories on TV—it’s more a question of what The Dragon Prince can bring to the table that audiences haven’t seen before.
At the start, the show had a lot in common with The Last Airbender… almost too much, at times. But what The Dragon Prince has repeatedly delivered on is a story built on high fantasy foundations that procedurally ignores many of the givens of the genre. To start, the world of the show is diverse (among both its humans and other species that populate its various kingdoms) without remark. The prejudices that exist on the show are lines drawn between humans, elves, and dragons, with questions lingering around humans’s abilities with magic and whether or not they should have access to that manner of power.
In fact, The Dragon Prince is fascinating for its choice to explore epic fantasy from a particular American perspective; in this world, the human characters are all played with American accents, while the magical denizens of Xadia all seem to have variations of European accents. This lends the show a unique prism through which it can be viewed—much in the ways the Unites States commonly used Europe as a source of “magic” when devising mainstream fantasy stories, The Dragon Prince essentially casts humanity’s magical counterparts with markers that poke at that history. It’s a mode of deconstruction that extra adds layers to the show’s clever use of fantasy tropes.
Overcoming prejudice and hatred is a large part of what The Dragon Prince means to address, and to that end, our initial trio of protagonists are Ezran and Callum, the sons of the king of Katolis and a Moonshadow Elf named Reyla (who they initially thought of as a moral enemy) they befriend for their epic quest. While the three come to trust and rely on each other and encourage other humans and elves to do the same, the show lands on some of the same themes that Lord of the Rings and its compantriots tout—a world can only be defended by the engagement of all its peoples, working together toward a common goal. In this case, it is protecting a dragon prince, named Zym, whom others would use as a prop for their own power and world domination.
But that is only a small part of what makes The Dragon Prince great. The show’s depictions of disability continues a narrative dialogue that Avatar started with Toph Beifong, leading with the introduction of Callum and Ezran’s Aunt Amaya, a general who commands deep and abiding respect and also happens to be deaf. The show uses its first season—via a little girl named Ellis and her three-legged wolf friend, Ava—to make cutting commentary about how abled-bodied people judge disability and use even its mere appearance to justify cruelty.
Environmental factors also take precedence in the story, as the balance of the world and the creatures that live in it are integral to the narrative’s core quest. And there’s questions of familial love and abuse to consider as well; we see good examples of parenting within the show, but are also given a closeup example of parental gaslighting from head mage Viren and the ways he constantly manipulates his children, Claudia and Soren.
Though understated in its execution, Xadia also seems like a place where heterosexuality is anything but compulsory. She-Ra and Steven Universe have led a charge in this arena, and now The Dragon Prince shows Xadians taking no issue with queerness whatsoever, among humans or elves. So far, the show has featured ruling queens with a daughter, and even a kiss (this is still extremely rare among animated content aimed at children) between Reyla’s two adoptive elf dads. Also, most of the characters on this show have insane chemistry, so at any given moment, there’s no telling what people’s sexualities might be—or become.
Add to that, the show has managed a thoroughly un-cringeworthy teen romance between Callum and Reyla in its most recent season. While adolescent antics can be fun for everyone, it’s nice to see a young relationship built on mutual respect and trust. It’s perhaps even nicer to see that relationship built partly upon Callum’s awe of Reyla’s heroics, because Tough Girl and Nerd Boy are a pairing that always warms the heartm while being an excellent model for the children watching the show.
The show runners have stated that their planned run would extend to seven seasons (Netflix abiding), making season three’s finale a near halfway point. The show handled this marker with one of the hallmarks of epic fantasy—a seemingly hopeless battle on a large playing field, with new allies coming together against a common foe. This battle was on par with what we’re accustomed to seeing from the big hitters, easily standing alongside Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, and anything that Game of Thrones ever churned out.
If this is what the show leaves us with at the halfway mark, I can’t imagine what more seasons will bring. Lets hope Netflix sees this one through to the end, because The Dragon Prince leaves most of its contemporaries in the dust.