[Ed. note: This post contains light spoilers for season 4 of The Dragon Prince]
The new season of The Dragon Prince wastes no time in letting us know that one of the new characters farts. And he farts a lot. Terry, an Earthblood elf, is not only dark mage Claudia’s new boyfriend — he also farts when he’s nervous or laughing. And those farts smell like petrichor (a word that you might recognize from various ✨aesthetic✨ images on the internet, which means the smell of rain on dry soil). Claudia finds this oh-so endearing and giggles about it, while her newly resurrected father, Viren, rolls his eyes.
Immediately after one of these fart-fests, though, Viren has a panic attack and when he comes to, he has a moment of reflection. He and Claudia only have 30 days to make his resurrection permanent — but what if he just spent those 30 days enjoying his life and spending time with his beloved daughter? Claudia protests immediately, because she sacrificed so much to bring him back and wants to keep their little family together. The two navigate such a deep question with no right answer, and it’s a poignant moment that one can almost forget the fart joke that happened right before. Almost.
This whiplash isn’t new to The Dragon Prince, but in the fourth season of the show — which deals with the heaviest themes and deepest ramifications so far — it feels the most jarring. The fourth season picks up two years after the show last left off, and in that time span, the characters start to deal with some pretty tough things.
Claudia has spent the last two years working to resurrect her father, and to make that revival permanent, she’ll need to free Aaravos, an ancient elf mastermind imprisoned hundreds of years ago for his crimes. While she’s off doing that, young King Ezran optimistically leads a new era of peace between the Human Kingdoms and the magical realm of Xadia, but must deal with the lingering tension that comes after centuries of feud. Meanwhile, Ezran’s half-brother Callum throws himself into his work as high mage in order to avoid the heartbreak of his girlfriend, the elf assassin Rayla, leaving without a word two years ago.
The show has never really shied away from tackling more mature storylines, and it’s pretty impressive to see Callum and Rayla’s painful reunion and 12-year-old Ezran acknowledging that the pains of years past won’t be fixed overnight with a pastry-filled celebration. The Dragon Prince isn’t just about young heroes saving the world from one great evil; it’s about young heroes saving a fractured world from centuries of division, bringing two sides together in hope of peace. It has a grand, political scope, where the main characters not only change their own lives, but the fates of the elves, humans, and dragons throughout the land. Finally, there is peace, but it is precarious, and the show does a great job of addressing the fact that old wounds won’t just heal with one grand victory. That just makes the sillier tonal shifts stand out all the more.
That is not to say that The Dragon Prince shouldn’t have its lighthearted moments. In fact, some of the best all-ages animation out there deftly balances weightier plot points with breezier moments. These softer scenes often flesh out characters and relationships, showcasing different sides to them. After all, we only learn so much about a character when they’re facing off against a great evil. It’s good to have scenes where guard Soren tries and fails to hide Callum’s surprise birthday party or Claudia awkwardly introduces her new boyfriend to her dad. Moments like those are still funny, but they don’t feel as glaringly weird. When the fate of the world is at stake, it’s important to remember the good things worth fighting for, be it jelly tarts or brotherly bonding.
But too often, The Dragon Prince swings and misses that tonal shift. From characters making pop culture jokes to the aforementioned fart gag, sometimes it feels like the show is trying too hard to prove that it is still for a younger audience. But when it’s at its best, The Dragon Prince doesn’t pander to those viewers and instead treats them with the maturity they deserve. Because kids can handle these heavier topics and they don’t need dumb jokes to keep them interested. It’s one thing for the cute animal sidekicks or funnily named food items to provide a few chuckles here and there, but it’s another for emotional scenes to be buried under an avalanche of gags. Still, there’s enough substance that the show can dust off most of the cringey rubble.
The Dragon Prince: The Mystery of Aaravos is now streaming on Netflix.