Entertainment Talk

The Dragon Prince: New decade, same expectations for Ehasz, Volpe

The Dragon Prince: New decade, same expectations for Ehasz, Volpe
Giancarlo Volpe is back working with Aaron Ehasz, whose last great collaboration fetched him an Annie Award. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Surprisingly, it has been 10 years since Avatar: The Last Airbender aired its final episode on Nickelodeon. Now producer Aaron Ehasz and director Giancarlo Volpe have reunited to create a show that could rival its predecessor.

This Friday, Netflix will unveil the first season of The Dragon Prince. Ehasz and Volpe helm the program as executive producers.

Joining them on that line is Justin Richmond, known for his work in the video game Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. But in terms of setting anticipation, the Avatar alumni are the top attraction.

Over a three-year, 61-episode run, Avatar quickly became more than a simple children’s show. The plot, intense action scenes and complex characters hooked viewers, young and old alike. Avatar balanced its many characters and allotted time for each to intricately develop.

As the director of 19 episodes, Volpe himself drove much of the show’s drama. While Volpe’s episodes did contain action, he crafted stories that embraced the complexities of the characters. His highlights included “The Warriors of Kyoshi,” “The Swamp,” and “Sokka’s Master.”

When Volpe was on directorial duty, Avatar focused on introducing new characters and examining fan favorites in innovative ways. He even gave Appa, Aang’s bison, personality with “Appa’s Lost Days.”

Volpe is perhaps best known for his decorated directing of Season 2’s “The Drill.” This episode garnered critical acclaim and earned Volpe an Annie Award for excellence in animation direction.

Avatar was nominated numerous times for these awards. In 2009, it went out on a high note, earning the title of best animated children’s series.

“The Drill” episode itself is one of the most memorable episodes of Season 2. Volpe and writers Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko balanced drama and comedy in the storyline. The plot conveys a sense of urgency as the heroes race against time to stop a Fire Nation drill from taking down an Earth Kingdom wall.

In producing The Dragon Prince, Volpe and Ehasz are certain to craft a similar series with a set of unique characters and storylines. Early reviews have praised the show for eliciting callbacks to Avatar while charting new ground.

The Dragon Prince takes place in a magic world dominated by the sun, moon, stars, earth, sky and ocean. When humans invent dark magic, the elves and dragons exile them to the eastern half of the land. Afterwards, humans slay a dragon and steal an egg, launching the world into war.

Besides that reminiscence of the Fire Nation starting a war, The Dragon Prince references Avatar in other ways. The series is divided into chapters and one of the main characters is even voiced by Jack DeSena. Avatar fans will immediately recognize and love the actor who played Sokka.

“One of our main goals was to make something Avatar fans would love,” Ehasz told Vice’s Nicole Clark.

The show not only features De Sena, but the characters are predominantly children or young adults. As it did with Avatar, Ehasz and Volpe hope the conflict found in the world will shape their new ensemble.

“It’s not about someone jaded by old patterns of conflict, it’s about becoming adults and whether they’re going to take on those conflicts or think they can change them,” Ehasz told Clark.

“We want this to be a real epic fantasy story, for true genre fans. Teens, adults, we want it to be a real experience for them. But we also want it—like Avatar—to have that feeling of it being accessible and appropriate for families and wider audiences as well.”

With the plot and characters resembling Avatar, that old formula should help with The Dragon Prince’s appeal. Visually, however, there are new and exciting elements. The Dragon Prince charts new ground with a mix of computer-animated characters and hand-drawn backgrounds.

The Dragon Prince has, so far, released only three episodes to reviewers. One reviewer, Jake Kleinman of Inverse, notes that “there are no clear villains” so far.

However, Kleinman also notes that the protagonists are about to embark on a journey, which could compensate for this potential hole. Moreover, his column last Friday ran under the lofty headline, “Netflix’s ‘The Dragon Prince’ Might Be Better Than ‘Avatar: Last Airbender.’”

The subheading cautioned, “If that’s even possible.”

But judging from Volpe and Ehasz’s track record, viewers expect a can’t-miss, enjoyable experience.

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