Tuesday 15 March 2011

The Flight of Dragons

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?


  1. I loved Flight of the Dragons. Didn't John Ritter do the voice for Peter? As for childhood memories, I have the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon on DVD, although that was a little after my time. My brother and I used to get up in the wee hours of the morning to watch Star Blazers (aka Space Battleship Yamato). I wonder how that would hold up now.

    Aaron (Dreaming About Other Worlds).

  2. I remember this movie from when I was a kid...but I don't remember it as well.

    The Last Unicorn is still a great movie.

  3. I adore this movie! Watched it so many times as a child and I dug out a cassette with it on a little while ago which was a huge nostalgia fest :)

  4. This was my younger brothers favorite film and we must have drove our parents insane switching between watching Flight of Dragon's and Star Wars while growing up.

    Even though my brother is now in his 30's I know for a fact that he has a DVD of this film safely tucked away...



  6. Seriously. Love this film, except for the depressing conclusion when magic "loses".

    @Jenni: There is a DVD if you're willing to import it? (And have a suitably weird DVD player)

  7. One of my favorites growing up, too!

    Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe was great, especially for this scene at the end (sound's a little low and quality grainy, but still):


  8. I loved Flight of Dragons as well although with James Earl Jones voicing both the red wizard and Darth Vader I thought all bad guys spoke in the same deep voice! I bought it on video a few years when I still had a VHS and it actually stood up to rewatching like The Last Unicorn. I wonder if I'd feel the same now - 7 years later...?

  9. I haven't Seen Flight of Dragons since I was a kid, but I loved it then.

    I recently bought and watched The Last Unicorn and it was just as good as I remember.

  10. I downloaded this a while ago (Want me to buy it, film companies? Release it in my region then!) and it still holds up pretty well.

    The theme song is as cringe inducing as it was when I was smaller, Ommadon is creepy and horrible, Sandmirks are still weirdly effective as monsters, Aragh is still a great hero and the princess is still a wet hen with a very silly name. All nostalgia issues aside, the film is good enough to push the same buttons now as it did when I was six.

    Well worth, ahem, 'finding' a copy.

  11. Although not fantasy as such, I think Animalympics also needs an honourable mention as it was certainly around the same period and must have one of the best opening soundtracks of any animated movie (and rivals many real life movies too!!)

    Flight still holds up just as well today and I have watched it many times over even as recently as this month (I'm 36). My sister was a bigger fan of Last Unicorn but I got hold of a copy recently and enjoyed watching it.

    They just don't make em like that anymore