(WARNING! CURMUDGEON AHEAD!) Back in my day, children's educational television was very straight-forward. Shows such as Sesame Street and The Electric Company didn't fool around, they would show you a word and teach you how to spell it. (And Spider-Man on The Electric Company was always a nice bonus.) These shows could perform in this manner because they didn't have a lot of competition. But, today, with the hundreds of channels available on TV, not to mention home video, educational shows must offer a great deal of entertainment value as well. And with some shows, such as Dragon Tales, the line between education and entertainment becomes quite blurred.
The bulk of the action in Dragon Tales is set in the mythical world of Dragonland. Two human children, Emmy (voiced by Andrea Libman) and her brother Max (voiced by Danny McKinnon) have a magical dragon scale which will transport them to Dragonland. (I've never seen the first episode, so I don't know how they got the scale.) Once there, they play with their dragon friends; Ord (voiced by Ty Olsson), a big, strong dragon who is very timid; Cassie (voiced by Chantal Strand), a young dragon who is very smart; and the two-headed dragon Zak (voiced by Jason Michas) and Weezie (voiced by Kathleen Barr) -- Zak is a worrisome hypochondriac, while Weezie is a happy-go-lucky manic. As the humans and dragons play together, they encounter many odd creatures.
The DVD collection "We Can Work It Out" contains five episodes of Dragon Tales, each of which deal with problem solving. The episodes included are:
"Cassie, the Green-Eyed Dragon" -- Cassie brings her little brother Finn to school for the other dragons to meet. But, Finn wrecks the place and then won't eat his lunch. Cassie becomes very jealous because of the attention that her brother is getting. But she then realizes that she is the only one who can calm him.
"So Long Solo" -- A talent show is being held in Dragonland, and Zak & Weezie plan to enter. Weezie is going to play her trumpet, while Zak plans to have a Jugglebug perform on the miniature stage that he has built. But, Jugglebug's are notoriously shy, and Zak can't catch one do to Weezie's trumpet playing. They realize that they must compromise so that they can both be in the show.
"Breaking Up is Hard to Do" -- It's arts & crafts day at school and Max and Ord built a contraption together. But, at the end of the day, they both want to take it home to show their moms. Their fighting breaks the project. How can they work this out?
"The Grudge Won't Budge" -- After Weezie breaks Zak's flute, Zak becomes very angry with her. This causes a small, furry creature called a Grudge to attach itself to Zak's back. The Grudge tells Zak to not forgive Weezie. Zak and Weezie must work out their differences so that The Grudge will leave Zak alone.
"Remember the Pillow Fort" -- Ord and Zak each build a pillow fort and then argue over which one is better. They try to get their friends to take sides in the argument. This competition leads to all out war.
As you can tell from the above overviews, Dragon Tales tackles some issues which most kids can relate to, such as jealousy, fighting with siblings, and competition. And that's admirable. But, it's way that the show presents these problems and its proposed solutions that make Dragon Tales such a questionable show. While there have been some good episodes of the program, most episodes present problems in such a round-about way that they be confusing to children, or miss the mark entirely. For example, in "The Grudge Won't Budge", a grudge is personified as a monster. While this may seem clever to adults, do kids get this? Things like this happen quite a bit on Dragon Tales. Also, as each segment is only about 12-minutes long, the show offers very simplified solutions that probably wouldn't work as quickly in real life.
The other great flaw with Dragon Tales are the characters. Each character is flawed and it's hard to like any of them. All of them are constantly whining and complaining, and Weezie has to be one of the most annoying creatures every created. Was this done to reflect the way that children normally behave? Perhaps, but the characters on the show certainly don't serve as good role-models, with their constant fighting and bickering. Once again, giving the characters personality traits such as being shy or crazy may seem clever to adults, but I'm not sure if this is the best material for children...or anyone who has to watch this program for more than five minutes.
As they're taken from a TV show, the episodes presented on "We Can Work it Out" are all presented in their original full-frame format. The picture is sharp, but there is actually some noticeable grain on the image at times, as well as some slight distortion. The colors on Dragon Tales are somewhat subdued for a show aimed at younger children, and they look fine here. Overall, the picture is about the same as digital broadcast quality, although any defects here are exaggerated.
The DVD features a Dolby stereo audio track. This track is unremarkable, but it does provide clear dialogue and sound effects. Also, the music in the show, while annoying, sounds fine.
When the show is seen on PBS, it contains two episodes, which are separated by a song. This DVD contains four of those songs -- "Doodli-Doo", "Wiggle Song", "The Silly Song", and "The Wake Up Song" -- in sing-along format. That's the only extra on this disc.
As a critic and as a parent, I feel that Dragon Tales is one of the worst children's programs on television. The messages are muddled and the characters are annoying. On top of that, the animation and colors aren't very appealing. With all of the choices out there today, you can certainly do better than this.