Before we talk about ‘Jane and the Dragon: A Dragon’s Tale’, let me first ask you a question. What is the first book you remember reading as a kid? If you are like me it requires stepping into the the Way Back Machine with Professor Peabody and Sherman, but I the first book I remember reading was about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I read that book until the pages fell out and then I went to the library to get other books on the subject. The concepts of chivalry and the knightly code I was exposed to as a youngster contributed to the more-than-slightly anachronistic geek I am today.
What if I had been a girl though? Would the lessons concealed in the tales of knightly adventures and men striving for greatness have impacted me the same? Probably not. Modern Arthurian literature stems from Mallory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” and has passed through the Victorian era ministrations of writers such as Tennyson. These resulting stories demonstrate that is was really great to be a guy. If you were a woman though, you had better tighten up your corset, make sure your hair and makeup are just right, mind your manners and you just might attract a husband! Then you could spend your life working on your needlepoint and posing for portraits of you gazing wistfully out the window.
Jane and the Dragon- the Book
This is the sort of exciting feminine roll models that came to mind for writer and illustrator Martin Baynton when a young girl told him she didn’t like fairy tales because of lack of control traditional female character’s have over their own future. He saw her point and did something about it. He wrote the book “Jane and the Dragon“.
Set in the 9th-Century English kingdom of Kippernium, the story revolves around Jane Turnkey, a 12 year-old girl who doesn’t want to grow up to be a Lady-in-Waiting, the only roll she could traditionally aspire to. Instead, she wants to be a knight. With this in mind she sets off to rescue Prince Cuthbert from the clutches of a dragon. A dragon that turns out to be more into wisecracking jokes than being ferocious. Instead of doing battle, Jane and Dragon become best friends, while her brave efforts win her the King’s permission to training as a knight. With that the stage is set for a new twist on the legendary tales many of us grew up on.
That is not the end of the story for Jane and Dragon though. Mr. Baynton teamed up with Richard Taylor and Weta Workshop to create an animated series based on “Jane and the Dragon,” Weta’s first foray into children’s television production. The show, which expands upon Jane’s world, while remaining true to the characters has been shown on networks such as NBC, ION, Telemundo and qubo is now coming to DVD. ‘Jane and the Dragon: A Dragon’s Tale’ is being released by Shout! Factory on August 19th and features the first five episodes of the show and a number of extras.
Jane and the Dragon- the Television Show
Don’t let the phrase “first foray” throw you off- this is Weta we are talking about. As the writer who covers all things Weta for PCZ, I am constantly trying to wring new synonyms out of my thesaurus to describe the remarkable, usually groundbreaking, work they produce. I’ve reached the point where I am certain that if I ever have to write a negative comment about something that came out of the workshop it will be an indication that the 7th Seal has been broken and the Four Horsemen are standing right behind me.
The stories told in this show do a wonderful job of teaching lessons without having to force feed the moral to the viewer. The actions on screen put these lessons out there through the the characters actions and their personal revelations, without the need for a tomato and a cucumber to end the show by a parable rendering computer (not, that there is anything wrong with VeggieTales). Moreover, there is a certain irreverence woven into the dialogue which defies the contemporary compulsion for political correctness which is rather refreshing.
Yes, the lead character is indeed a female, but I in no way found the show to be a feminist vehicle, if that is what you are worried about. Instead, it promotes the concept that gender was irrelevant if one works for what they want. Jane is not a paragon of “girl power.” Rather she is an example of what one can do when they chase their dreams as hard as they can, accept the lumps, deal with failures and follow your heart. That is a lesson I personally hope every child learns.
I am happy to report this show has absolutely no purple singing dinosaurs. It is written in a way that adults will be able to enjoy watching it with their kids. Being a parent myself, I know the sheer agonies of my child asking to watch the same DVD over, and over, and over, and over. Generally, these shows are painful at best, but with ‘Jane and the Dragon’ my son and I would sit on the couch and watch it together. There are plenty of tidbits in the stories that are obviously for the benefit of parents. These snatches of humor and lines that are well above the comprehension of the target audience are surprising and really quite enjoyable.
The Art and Animation
There is no other way to put it, ‘Jane and the Dragon’ is like nothing you have ever seen before. In my opinion, not since Mainframe Entertainment premiered “Reboot” in 1994, the first full length computer animated television series, has something so unprecedented (see, I am straining my thesaurus again) been broadcast. In the case of “Reboot,” Bob, Enzo and Dot Matrix represented something that had never been done before. For “Jane and the Dragon” Weta has given us something that has never been done so well before. When watching the show I was reminded of how Walt Disney used “Sleeping Beauty” to take traditional animation to a higher, unheard of, level- Weta has done the the same thing with computer animated television production.
When you first hit play on an episode you will be taken with what Richard Taylor describes it as a “pencil drawn look”. The feel of the textures is that of having been hand penciled, but yet it is in the three dimensional space of the CGI set. It truly creates the illusion of stepping into the very pages of a story book. Not content to stop there, they engage in expensive-to-render helicopter shots of scenes and breathtakingly realistic hair. I would have to say that the finest CGI rendering of hair I have seen was Sully’s fur in Pixar‘s “Monsters, Inc.” Each character in ‘Jane and the Dragon’ sports a marvelously realistic coiffure that is every bit as remarkable as Sully’s.
This is evidence, yet again, of what is probably the most defining characteristic of Weta Workshop. No matter the project, they do whatever it takes to do it right. The combination of Martin Baynton and Weta have certainly produced something that has been done right- unequivocally.
If you have kids, buy this DVD. If you are thinking of someday producing progeny, buy this DVD and hold onto it for them. If you know someone who has kids, buy it and satisfy any sort of gift giving obligations which may arise in the future. If you are reading this while quartered in your parent’s basement and can’t remember the last time you engaged in verbal communication with a member of the opposite sex, buy it for you- you deserve something nice.
Overall, anyone who is a fan of animation (basement living not required), a parent or “Weta Holic” needs to have this DVD on the shelf
For the PCZ exclusive interview with Martin Baynton click here.
For more about “Jane and the Dragon” visit their website by clicking here.
To visit the PCZ photo gallery of the Weta booth from SDCC click here.