Upon discovering there are four DragonHeart sequels, TV-VCR will be reviewing one a day across the next five business days.
DragonHeart: A New Beginning (2000)
(This review contains heavy spoilers, but come on. You weren’t going to watch this.)
Given the fanfare DragonHeart gave the death of the last living dragon (the corpse evaporating into a piss-colored fog, flying into outer space, merging with the Draco constellation, making the constellation merge into a singularity, exploding into a universe of stars, forming the shape of a fully-detailed dragon, and finally returning to the original constellation), to bring dragon-kind back in a sequel would be a real slap in Dennis Quaid’s awestruck face. Nonetheless, four years later, Universal’s home video division did just that with 2000’s DragonHeart: A New Beginning, a follow-up that would continue and further muddle this tale of dragon-to-man organ transplants.
Like a Lucky Charms ad, A New Beginning opens with the promise that now there’s a new addition to the original’s hearts and stars: a two-tailed comet! It’s due to fly past Earth soon, and that’s supposed to be bad, so an old Chinese man and his young charge have traveled to the pre-established DragonHeart part of England where half the people have American accents for some reason. Master Kwan, the old man part, is clearly a James Hong role, and that it’s instead filled by Henry O is an early sign of just how cheap this thing is.
That’s not the focus, though. The film centers on Geoff (pronounced JOFF, thank you), a stable boy with dreams of becoming a knight. You’ll recognize him as Malcolm in the Middle‘s eldest, and whenever he gets excited, it seems like he’s doing an impression of Denny from The Room. And he is soon to befriend an absolutely atrocious-looking CGI dragon.
Seriously, if you thought that four years of technological progress would mean the straight-to-video sequel could at least reach the low effects bar of its predecessor, you were woefully mistaken. The first film asked, “How could this look more like a CD-ROM video game cutscene? A New Beginning answers back hard with, “By only rendering our graphics at 480p, so whenever there’s CGI anywhere on screen, the video quality drops dramatically. Also, make all the CGI buildings just flat surfaces with low-res textures, so it looks like the film takes place in Everquest.” (In fairness, the filmmakers almost certainly never envisioned a world where interest in a DragonHeart sequel would continue into a 4k-streaming future and three more franchise entries.)
Anyway, so this dragon is named Drake, presumably after the rapper/singer. He’s Draco from the first one’s son, as it’s revealed that single dad Draco had a fertilized egg sitting around and just forgot to mention that when he kept insisting he was the last dragon ever. Drake is also a Dungeons & Dragon: SVU case, with a priest keeping him locked in a secret underground lair.
One day, Geoff steals his monk pal’s key, sneaks down into that dungeon looking for a sword and, like Degrassi before him, discovers Drake. Almost immediately after, the priest “goes to Heaven” off-screen without a given cause, and Geoff and Drake start hanging out all the time.
Back at the castle, some kind of chancellor is pulling the king’s strings. It’s the guy who played Craig, the suitor who keeps promising Elaine a deal on a dress in the Seinfeld episode “The Wig Master, and his budget Timothy Dalton is—like the villain in the prior movie—probably the best thing about the movie. He soon finds out about Drake, and starts manipulating Geoff to get the dragon to protect the kingdom in exchange for becoming a knight.
Meanwhile, the pair from China have likewise been looking for a dragon—to kill it should it be the evil dragon in whatever the vague comet prophecy is all about. But no, Drake is an absolute dipshit all the time, and because of the animation budget, not even on-screen all that much. So, instead they teach the dragon to use his dragon powers. Turns out, besides blowing fire, these dragons can spit ice! As if all the shit with hearts and stars and comets wasn’t enough add-ons to what a dragon is.
Lian, Master Kwan’s charge, is very clearly a girl about Geoff’s age, but thanks to Mulan, it’s decided that everyone thinks she’s a boy until she takes off her hat and reveals that she has long hair. Like with Quaid and the lady from Starship Troopers in DragonHeart, it constantly seems like she and Geoff are going to hook up, but then they just kind of drop that romance in favor of the furry-friendly love between man and dragon. She also of course is a master of kung fu, and she possesses an amulet that contains Chekhov’s Gun in the form of a freeze-dried dragon heart.
As we later learn, Lord Craig doesn’t actually want Drake’s aid in protecting the kingdom. He wants Drake’s heart, even though, per the first film, literally all having a dragon heart means is that there’s one more way for you to die. He fakes a mortal injury and tries to get it, but he’s called out on it. That’s fine though, because he later just takes that withered old amulet heart and laughably crams it in his chest.
It’s then that he reveals ANOTHER element to the increasingly convoluted mythos of the DragonHeart franchise’s dragons: a full heart lets one BECOME a man-sized dragon, allowing one to fight an actual young dragon in a battle that, due to budgetary concerns, is not going to go on all that long before it ends in a Sub-Zero fatality.
The whole thing is really just a teetering tower of rote tropes. The boy-befriends-powerful-being shtick; the chancellor poisoning the king to take control thing; the villain gaining the same power for the final battle; all the kung fu Mulan stuff. There’s even an upper-crust bully who gets his comeuppance. It’s basically MadLibs where someone keeps writing “dragon” and “heart” as often as possible.
But despite all that, in a way, it’s just about as successful as its predecessor.
Sure, it has the historical production values of an episode of Wishbone, but at least it knows what it is. And what it is—like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze or RoboCop: The Animated Series, or a half-dozen other similar follow-ups—is a concession to drop the dark(er) stuff and just go full-blown juvenile for the kiddie demo.
When DragonHeart has its lead emerge alive but charred and smoking from a fireball, it’s really weird, because a half-hour earlier, the villain gouged a man’s eyes out with a hot poker, leaving him with burnt holes in his head. But when Drake tries to breathe fire, and instead it shoots a flame fart out his butt? Sure. That’s consistent with this being a cheap-ass DVD made for children. It’s dumb as hell, but yeah, it plays.
Likewise, as a movie in a theater, DragonHeart: A New Beginning would get a failing grade. But in its narrower genre, and at a very manageable 84 minutes, it’s another generous C-.
Incidentally, the sequel ended up not being the “new beginning” it promised: the next entry dropped this story, and every follow-up after was a prequel. While director Doug Lefler went on to direct Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, and Thomas Sangster in 2007’s The Last Legion before he fell off the map, Monday we go on to work with only Kingsley—who provided the dragon’s voice in Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse—before throwing up.