This television show originally aired on "PBS" from September 6, 1999 until April 11, 2005. A revival of the series is set for a 2019 PBS Kids launch.
Dragon Tales is based on the characters created in 1978 by Laguna Beach, California artist and retired educator Ron Rodecker, who was recovering from a coronary artery bypass graft when he began sketching dragons as a means of symbolizing forces in life that were too big to control. In 1997, Jim Coane, then a producer at Columbia TriStar Television, found the artwork and developed it into a television series with several writers. Coane then brought the project to the Children's Television Workshop, where Marjorie Kalins helped him and Columbia TriStar Television obtain a grant from the Department of Education and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The grant proposal was written by Wesley Eure. As Columbia TriStar was the TV division of two major Hollywood film studios, which in turn were owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, this made Dragon Tales the one of the few PBS Kids programs to be co-produced by a major Hollywood studio's TV subsidiary. The other PBS shows made by a major Hollywood studio were Bill Nye The Science Guy (made by Walt Disney Television) and Curious George (produced by Universal Television) In 2002, C-T was renamed to Sony Pictures Television, a company that would co-produce the third season of the program. Coane was the executive producer for the first two seasons.
Show premise and overview
The series focused on the exploits of two siblings, Emmy and Max, in possession of an enchanted dragon scale capable of transporting them to a whimsical fantasy land inhabited by colorful anthropomorphic dragons upon their recitation of a rhyme. Befriended by four friendly talking dragons with distinctive personalities, Ord, Cassie, Zak, and Wheezie, they frequently travel to Dragon Land and help their friends in fulfilling particular quests, assisting them in their daily problems, and learning important morals through their experiences with the educational whimsy of Dragon Land.
Designed to educate preschoolers mildly in Hispanic culture (because of the Spanish origins of a portion of the central characters), during the program's final seasons a new character named Enrique debuted, providing the series with a third protagonist. Surrounded by a variety of unique characters and faced with numerous differing situations, Emmy and Max commonly embark on adventures with their anthropomorphic friends, conquering fears or achieving goals in spite of any obstacles preventing them from doing so.
As a series broadcast on PBS Kids, the program had an educational focus, combining lessons of a pro-social nature with those of more general educational value. Educational topics covered included identifying shapes, learning words and letters in both English and Spanish, counting and basic math. Social topics were also covered, such as good sportsmanship, the importance of being a good friend, overcoming obstacles such as jealousy or fears and getting along with siblings. Many of the show's interstitial song segments, known as "Dragon Tunes," also covered such topics, such as the "Making It Fun" song which encouraged viewers to not complain about having to do seemingly mundane chores such as washing dishes or helping parents with cooking meals, but instead find ways to make them fun. Another, "Hum," encouraged those who had a fear of the dark or trying new things to hum a gentle tune to comfort them. Stated goals of the program's educational philosophy included the encouragement of pursuing new experiences, finding ways to approach and learn from challenges and that learning can come through trying and not succeeding. Despite two of the show's human leads, Emmy and Enrique, being six years old, the show's described target audience was children closer to the age of four.
Another key theme of the program was the encouragement of honest and candid expressions of emotion. In "Cassie, the Green-Eyed Dragon," Cassie felt jealous of her little brother, Finn, when he gets everyone's attention when she takes him to school for "circle time." Discussing the matter with her best friend, Emmy, and Quetzal, the teacher at the School in the Sky, helps her to understand that jealousy is a natural feeling that everyone experiences sometimes, but that there are ways that she can appreciate her brother, while still feeling appreciated herself. In "Feliz Cumpleaños, Enrique," Enrique feels sad and homesick for his birthplace of Colombia when his birthday celebrations in Dragon Land aren't like the traditions of his old home. He talks with Quetzal, who encourages him to cry, even though he had been told that crying was something a boy at his age wasn't supposed to do. After doing so, he feels better and is able to enjoy his party celebrations.
As with Sesame Street, which was also produced by Children's Television Workshop, the program's creators encouraged "co-viewing," the practice of parents or other caregivers watching the program along with their children and engaging in activities such as discussion, singing and dancing, and pretend play. The program's official website offered a number of activities and lesson plans to aid in these efforts.
Emmy, voiced by Andrea Libman, is 6 years old. She commonly appears as the leader of the group until she gave her position to Enrique while helping him get used to Dragon Land. She is Max's older sister. Her best friend is Cassie, and she is perhaps known for saying, "Definitely!" whenever a good idea arises. Though Emmy is not ashamed to do "girly" things with her best friend, Cassie, she is also heavily into sports and games and generally is up for any activity regardless of traditional gender roles. Though she experiences occasional jealousy of her brother, the two are otherwise usually together within Dragon Land and share many adventures. Though a brave, smart natural leader, she is also impulsive and doesn't always think before she acts. She is typically seen wearing a blue jumper over a red shirt.
Max, voiced by Danny McKinnon, is 4 years old. He is Emmy's younger brother. For the most part, he and Emmy get along fine, but occasionally have arguments. He is prone to anger. His best friend is Ord. Though Max loves his older sister, Emmy, he sometimes struggles with being the younger brother, upset about being too little to do certain things, or frustrated when Emmy acts in certain ways. He is an adventurous sort and sometimes helps to give courage to Ord when he's afraid of things like visiting a dark forest. He is kind to others and encourages Emmy when she is at first reluctant about allowing Enrique to share the secret of Dragon Land. He often enjoys acting silly or goofy. He sometimes acts in a stubborn manner, determined to prove that a child his age can do things on his own, even when he really needs help. He usually wears a green short-sleeved shirt with yellow on the collar & edges of the shirt-sleeves and brown slacks.
Enrique, voiced by Aida Ortega, is 6 years old. He is Emmy and Max's new friend who moved from Colombia to the United States and also once lived in Puerto Rico. He is raised by his dad and his grandmother ("abuelita"). He first appears in the beginning of Season 3 and travels to Dragon Land with the children. His recent experiences in South America provide more opportunities for the characters to demonstrate the meanings of new Spanish words, much like Dora the Explorer, Rosita from Sesame Street, and Handy Manny as he is bilingual.
Ord, voiced by Ty Olsson, is the blue male dragon who can turn invisible when he's scared. He is best friends with Max, who rides on his back. Ord is extremely fond of food and always carries some 'just in case'; A running gag in the show features Ord making "Dragon Corn" by throwing purple popcorn kernels in the air and frying them with his fire breath. Ord is afraid of many things, particularly the dark. He wants to learn to control these fears so that he can have fun with his friends.
Cassie, voiced by Chantal Strand, is a shy, demure, and sweet pink female dragon and Emmy's best friend. She possesses a magical tendency to shrink when unhappy, and may occasionally come across as slightly insecure and uncertain, and is prone to worrying. However, Cassie is distinguished by her maternal sweetness as a result of her responsibilities as an older sister and babysitter to a humongous myriad of younger siblings, and has been shown to be gifted with great singing and dancing abilities, as revealed in one episode. Cassie also is characterized by her color combination consisting of pink and yellow, albeit her body is spotted with blue speckles in some areas. Cassie knows just about everything there is to know about Dragon Land and has a deep love of fairy-tales, both stemming from her love of reading. Her dragon badge glows when she feels confident, but she often worries about making a mistake.
Zak and Wheezie
Zak and Wheezie, voiced by Jason Michas and Kathleen Barr, are Conjoined twin dragons and are siblings; Zak (green) is the male, and Wheezie (purple) is the female. Zak prefers to pursue things in a logical manner. He is neat and clean, but also worries a lot and is pessimistic about many things. His catch phrase is "Take it easy, Wheezieee!", which he often screams when Wheezie takes off running, dragging him with her. Wheezie is very bold, enthusiastic and hyper but can also be quite messy and loud, much to her brother's annoyance, and is perhaps known for saying, "Loooove it!", when she loves something. She is a quick, wild, and free spirited. She loves to run and do cart-wheels and back- flips, which make Zak nauseous and dizzy. They have a shared love of music and performing and they often perform in talent shows and recitals together.
Zak and Wheezie always fly with Enrique, although prior to his debut, Zak and Wheezie rarely flew with any of their human friends. Their dragon badges glow when they work together and get along, though will sometimes glow independently when one of them accomplishes something on their own of significance. Although they fight a lot, they are very close and care about each other a lot.
Quetzal, portrayed by Eli Gabay, is an elderly dragon who is the teacher at The School in the Sky where young dragons attend. He has an identical twin brother named Fernando who works in his garden. Quetzal typically speaks with a Mexican accent, and is likely named for the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl. He tries to encourage his young charges to find solutions to their problems on their own, but is a sounding board who offers stability and comfort, as well as sound advice. In the episode 'Snow Dragon,' Quetzal mentions it has been hundreds of years since he visited the dragon snow sculpture as a child, implying he is centuries old.
Each of the following have appeared more than once:
- Arlo, a dragon who works at the Dragon Dump; he has a machine at the Dragon Dump which he calls his lil' ol' recycler that sorts out things that can be used again. (Scott McNeil)
- Dr. Booboogone, a veteran pink dragon who works as a doctor. She wears a doctor's coat. (Shirley Milliner)
- Captain Scallywag, a pirate who captains a flying galleon. (Scott McNeil)
- Chilly, a living snowman who lives on top of the Stickleback Mountains with his snowdog Nippy. (French Tickner)
- Cyrus, a conniving lizard-like "slinky serpent"; a minor antagonist in the show he often tries to steal others' eggs to eat. (Ian James Corlett)
- Eunice, a winged unicorn. She can't see very well, so she wears glasses. (Janyse Jaud)
- Finn, voiced by Ellen Kennedy, is Cassie's younger brother. He is light blue, toddler-aged, attached to his blankie, and only just learning to fly. He is prone to tantrums when upset.
- The Giant of Nod, leader of a group called the Nodlings. While much bigger than his fellow Nodlings, he is smaller than any of the main characters, but is enormously strong. (Blu Mankuma)
- Lorca, voiced by Lenore Zann, is Max, Emmy, Zak, Wheezie, Ord, and Cassie's friend. He is on a wheelchair and is incapable of flight. Despite his physical limitations, however, Lorca enjoys participating in adventures and sports activities and encourages his friends to think of new ways to do things.
- Kiki, Cassie's younger sister. Kiki is green. She seems slightly younger than Finn and still drinks from a bottle. She is attached to her "squishy," an oddly shaped fruit that she enjoys squeezing. (Ellen Kennedy)
- Mungus, a giant who lives in a castle in the clouds; he knows many folks in Dragon Land since he can travel far and wide in just a few steps. (Garry Chalk)
- Mr. Pop, a gnome-like character that steals Wheezie's laugh with his sound switcher. (Ian James Corlett)
- Priscilla, the manager at the lost and found, who during her first appearance, was feeling embarrassed because her wings (often called "feathers") were bigger than those of other dragons. She eventually realized that boy dragons like girl dragons with big wings and raises her self-esteem. (Erin Fitzgerald)
- Polly Nimbus, the operator of the cloud Factory, which controls Dragon Land's weather. Her surname is a pun off of nimbus clouds. (Kathleen Barr)
- Sid Sycamore, voiced by Scott McNeil, is a talking tree who loves telling jokes that relate to the concept of trees; the dragons' tree house is attached to him. When upset, the children will sometimes go to talk to him to be cheered up by his jokes.
- Wyatt, a talking wishing well that immediately grants any wish for a single coin. Often tells stereotypically bad puns. He is old friends with Quetzal. Whenever coins pile up too high, he knows it is time for them to be emptied and taken to the First Dragon Land Bank. Earlier in the series, he was called Willy. (Doug Parker)
- Emmy and Max's parents, they are not seen in the series, but their voices are often heard off-screen in most episodes. They call out to Emmy and Max from downstairs at the beginning or end of an episode. Their mom is voiced by Kathleen Barr, and their dad is voiced by Eli Gabay.
Places in Dragon Land
Dragon Land is the fantasy world where the majority of the show takes place. It is home to numerous colorful, anthropomorphic dragons and many other fantastical creatures. Max and Emmy travel to Dragon Land by holding an enchanted dragon scale while reciting the rhyme: "I wish, I wish, with all my heart, to fly with dragons in a land apart." The scale then teleports them to Dragon Land. It appears that it does not matter who does or doesn't say the rhyme, as long as at least one person says it; whever is holding the dragon scale while they say the rhyme will be teleported with them. Returning home from Dragon Land is done in the same fashion, although no dragon scale is needed. The rhyme is: "I wish, I wish, to use this rhyme, to go back home until next time." The person reciting the rhyme, as well as all those holding their hand, will be transported back to where the reciter said the rhyme that took them to Dragon Land.
- Basketball Court – For one episode, Emmy and Max and the dragons come here for a game of basketball.
- Chile Valley – A valley with lots of tasty, yet spicy chilly peppers, which are red in color and resemble dragonberries.
- The Cloud Factory – Where a dragon named Polly Nimbus manufactures rain clouds, snow clouds, etc., and ejects them into the sky as needed.
- Crystal Cave – A giant, crystallized cave where crystals are stored and special crystals dance, with the aid of water from Singing Springs, and some Dandelion fuzzies from the Dandelion Forest.
- Crystal Fountain – A fountain inside Crystal Cave for cleaning.
- Dandelion Forest – A forest made of dandelions that actually roar and growl like real lions, and are as tall as trees. Ord is so allergic to dandelions that when he sneezes in front of the dandelions, he usually does so with an incredible force that the dandelions lose their seeds and turn sad.
- Dragon Beaver Dam – A dam where the dragonbeavers reside.
- Dragon Dump – The place where the citizens of Dragon Land send their garbage to be recycled or disposed of. It's run by a dragon named Arlo.
- Dragoon Lagoon – A large lagoon seen in many episodes. It is home to creatures called silliguanas and hissyfish. It even has a plug at the bottom just like a bathtub.
- Dragon Land Laundry – A place where dragons do laundry.
- Dr. BoobooGone's office – Where dragons go when sick or hurt.
- The Forest of Darkness – A large forest that holds trees with glowing stars, but is very dark. Ord is very afraid of this forest because of its darkness and other things that inhabit this strange Forest.
- Lost Forever Hole – A small tunnel formed by a river. According to Ord, anything that flows on the river through the hole is "lost forever". Because it isn't really explored, it is unknown if this is true or not.
- Marshmallow Marsh – A swamp full of sticky marshmallow goo, which is almost impossible to clean off and it is near Mushroom Meadow.
- Mushroom Meadow – A large field of mushrooms with "bouncy" tops. The dragons and the children often play there.
- The Knuckerhole , Zak & Wheezie's home. Of course, there are also lots of other knuckerholes all over Dragonland.
- Rainbow Canyon – A canyon with pigments that make paint. When it rains, the pigments turn to mud.
- Rainbow Falls – A waterfall where there are always rainbows.
- The School in the Sky – The school where the dragon children are taught by Quetzal.
- Singing Springs – A gold fountain that plays music. It is seen in the opening and closing of the Dragon Tunes segment.
- Stickleback Mountains – Another mountain range, with colored sticks that have to be pulled out carefully.
- Snowy Summit – A frigid, snow-covered mountain range, where Chilly the Snowman and his snow puppy Nippy live.
- Treasure Trove – A cave where dragons keep their treasure it's guarded by a magic door located in knuckerhole.
- Turtle Rock – A rock that is shaped like a turtle.
- Wyatt the Wishing Well – A well where dragons or people can make wishes, which actually come true if they flip a coin into the well. The well is inhabited by a purple walrus named Wyatt (named Willy in his first appearances) who laughs at lame jokes.
Dragon Tales premiered on PBS Kids on September 6, 1999 with the episode "To Fly with Dragons / The Forest of Darkness." The installment introduced the characters of Max and Emmy to Dragon Land after discovering a magical dragon scale in their new home and to their new dragon friends. In the first half, they discovered Ord's missing tooth, while the adventures continued in the second story with Ord facing his fear of the dark. A total of forty episodes were aired in the first season, with the finale airing on April 28, 2000. The show's second season premiered on June 4, 2001 and had 25 episodes. 20 of these episodes were broadcast from June 4, 2001 to September 20, 2001. The final installment of this set, "Just the Two of Us / Cowboy Max," was broadcast only in non-U.S. markets such as Guam and Canada and did not premiere to U.S. audiences until the program's third season, though "Cowboy Max" was released on DVD prior to this. The special "Let's Start a Band!," featuring the dragon characters blended with live humans in a musical show based on the program's "Dragon Tunes" segments, was released on March 2, 2003. Following this, no new episodes were aired until February 21, 2005, leading many long-time viewers to believe the program had been quietly canceled. The new season introduced the new character Enrique, an immigrant from Colombia, as well as an updated focus on folk songs and teaching of Spanish. The premiere installment, in two parts, showed Enrique being introduced to the sights and sounds of Dragon Lands, learning to fly on Zak & Wheezie, and having his first adventure. The second half appeared as "The Mystery of the Missing Knuckerholes" in some listings, but on the program was simply titled as Part 2 of the episode. Though 29 episodes were broadcast, including "Just the Two of Us / Cowboy Max," with few exceptions only one story from each was original, while the others were a repeat of a story from the second season, easily identifiable by the absence of Enrique.
The program's first musical album, Dragon Tunes, was released on March 20, 2001 and featured the character themes of Cassie and Ord, as well as tunes such as "Betcha Can," the "Wiggle Song" and "Shake Your Dragon Tail." A second album, More Dragon Tunes, was issued on February 15, 2005. This album introduced the character theme of Zak & Wheezie, as well as a number of new tunes introduced in the program's second and third seasons, including "Hola," "Make a New Friend" and remixes of two previous themes, "Shake Your Dragon Tail" and "Dance."
Throughout its history, a number of tie-in book releases were printed, some based on installments of the television program, others not. These included Cassie Loves a Parade, Ord Makes a Wish and Taking Care of Quetzal.
Main article: List of Dragon Tales episodes
Dragon Tales aired a total of 93 episodes, 40 in its first season, 24 in its second season and 29 in its third season. Each episode featured two original stories, aired back-to-back, split by the interstitial song segment "Dragon Tunes," all of which were eventually released on the show's music albums. Almost all episodes from the third season, however, generally contained at least one repeat of a story from the program's second season and some were even repeats of material from that season and earlier material from the third season. In all, there were a total of 155 original stories. The show also had two specials: Let's Start a Band and Big, Big Friend Day. Let's Start a Band was a musical feature in which the characters of the show were seen alongside real human children. Big, Big Friend Day, however, was merely a special featuring episodes of Dragon Tales and Clifford the Big Red Dog, with interstitial segments introducing characters from the new series It's a Big Big World. As such, it did not contain any original Dragon Tales material.
Music and songs
Dragon Tales featured an original score composed by Jim Latham and Brian Garland. Each episode also included an interstitial segment between story airings known as "Dragon Tunes," featuring a song either based on one of the characters of the show, or designed to teach a lesson, such as "Stretch!", which encouraged viewers to reach forward for their goals and "When You Make a New Friend," which espoused the joys of forming a new friendship. The songs were released on the albums Dragon Tunes and More Dragon Tunes.
On December 16, 2000, a tie-in video game: Dragon Tales: Dragon Wings, was issued for Game Boy Color. Issued by NewKidCo, the game allowed players to take on the role of a novice dragon that was learning the secrets of flight at Quetzal's School in the Sky. Players moved through 15 levels of obstacles available in three difficulty levels. Reviews were mixed at Amazon.com, with an overall rating of 3/5 stars from ten reviewers. Many praised the graphics and fun of the game, but also felt that the game was too challenging for most younger players and did not offer much educational value.
On July 28, 2004, a second video game titled Dragon Tales: Dragon Adventures was released for Game Boy Color. Also issued by NewKidCo, the game included journeys to familiar locations from the show including the Stickleback Mountains, the Singing Springs and Crystal Caverns. The game included multiple skill settings and the option to play as Cassie, Ord, Emmy or Max, the title having been issued before the addition of Enrique to the series.
The show's official website also includes a number of tie-in games, such as "Finn's Word Game" and "Dragonberry Surprise."
In addition to the various books, music albums and video game releases, numerous merchandise items featuring the characters of Dragon Tales were made available for purchase throughout the program's run. A total of six different designs featuring scenes from the program were featured on Welch's jam jars. An official board game for the series titled Dragon Tales: A Dragon Land Adventure, featured obstacles and memory games, with the goal of completing a puzzle. It was released by University Games and overall reviews were generally positive, though also expressed that the game was not very challenging. Other merchandise released for the series included plush toys for most of the major characters, such as Cassie and Quetzal, though Enrique, seen only in the program's third season, was never released in plush form and was largely absent from merchandise releases.
Dragon Tales Live!
Dragon Tales Live! was a musical stage show featuring the characters and concepts of the show. It toured nationally in the United States. It featured performers playing the dragons in full body costumes and two real children in each production playing the roles of Max and Emmy. Shows included the "Missing Music Mystery" and "The Riddle of Rainbow River." Dragon Tales Live! toured from January 2002 till at least March 2006. The program was never modified to include the character of Enrique, who was not added until the program's final season, one year before productions of the stage show ended.
- 2000 Parents' Choice Silver Award Winner
- 2001 Parents' Choice Approved Award Winner (for "Dragon Tales: Dragon Tunes" CD)
- 2003 Parents' Choice Silver Award Winner (for "Let's Start a Band" video)
- 2005 Parents' Choice Approved Award Winner (for "Dragon Tales: More Dragon Tunes" CD)
The series was nominated for three Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children's Animated Program in 2001, 2002 and 2003, but did not win any. Kathleen Barr and Jason Michas also received Annie Award nominations in 2000 for their performances of Zak and Wheezie.
- Dragon Tales at the Internet Movie Database
- Dragon Tales at the TV.com
- Dragon Tales at Sprout Online (Replicates much of the content originally found at the PBSKids official website)
- Parent Tales from Dragon Tales on the official PBS website
- Sony Pictures Television official Dragon Tales page, available on Internet Archive (DVD Series)
- Dragon Tales - "A Magical World of Rainbow Rivers and Talking Trees", archive, on Sesame Workshop's official website
- Detail account of series' genesis
- PBS official website (Internet Archive, partially functional, circa introduction of Enrique)
- Official website of Dragon Tales Live stage show (Internet Archive)
- Sesame Workshop official site as it appeared at CTW.org