When I was a kid, certain films used to find their way into the VHS player more often than others. Disney's version of Robin Hood, The Last Unicorn, The Family Ness, My Little Pony - and The Flight of Dragons.
The Flight of Dragons is an animated film from 1982, and is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Peter Dickinson.
Magic is failing, and science is on the rise, so the green wizard Carolinus calls together his three wizardly brothers to ascertain what they should do. He believes they should create the 'Last Realm of Magic', a protected place where magic will live on once humans have moved entirely to science and stop believing in magic. Ommadon - the red wizard - refuses to aid his brothers (there's always one, isn't there?) Instead he wants to dominate humankind and infest them all with greed, so that he can prevent the death of magic through force and dictatorship.
The only way to prevent Ommadon succeeding in his nefarious plans is to take his Red Crown, the source of all his powers. To achieve this, Carolinus seeks a hero in the modern world, and transports Peter Dickenson - a dreamy scientist - to the world of magic so that he can quest for the Red Crown and destroy it.
Ommadon tries to stymie the quest by using magic to put Peter into the body of the house dragon Gorbash. Since Peter knows nothing about being a dragon, he is accompanied on his quest by the dragon Smrgol (check out all those consonants!) who is old and gruff and tries to teach Peter how to be a dragon. There is a lovely dichotomy between Smrgol using magical explanations for breathing fire and flying, and Peter trying to explain them away with logic and science.
After various adventures and other companions joining the party, Peter and the rest reach Ommadon's Red Realm, and suffer grievous injuries as they try to defeat Ommadon and his red dragon Bryagh. Eventually Peter uses the power of science to deny magic, and Ommadon is unable to survive the idea that science can defeat magic. He dies from disbelief, but Peter is thrown back into the modern world because he has demonstrated that he doesn't believe in magic.
Here is our geeky hero!
This film has not yet been released on DVD in the UK as far as I can tell, and, in some respects, I'm quite relieved. Some of my childhood watches have stood up to adult rewatches - The Last Unicorn, Transformers the animated movie - whereas others suffer when watched through cynical eyes - Thundercats, Dungeons & Dragons. I honestly don't know whether The Flight of Dragons would fall into the former or latter camp!
What I do love about this film - or remember loving, anyway - is the heroic nature of the fantasy. This is genuine sword and sorcery, Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons & Dragons territory - what with the magic and the dragons and the elves. Lifting it above this aspect of the film is the discussion of magic versus science, and the fact that neither can exist in the same world.
This theme helps to warn against the dangers of science, the fact that technological advancement can lead to abuse and great evil. But it also shows - through the fact that Ommadon does evil acts using magic - that eventually magic or science or "insert other concept" are merely tools that can be used for either good or evil.
The Flight of Dragons seems to be one of those films that provides effective entertainment and commentary for both children and adults - certainly the film and the score are whimsical and humorous enough to let children dream about flying with dragons.
Have you watched The Flight of Dragons? What did you think of it? Do you have any other beloved children's films that you're now worried about watching for fear they won't stand up to adult eyes?
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