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The Flight Of Dragons
(1982)
 

Directors: Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass


All of us can remember seeing TV shows and movies in our youths that we absolutely loved at the time. Then as the years went by, our memories of these TV shows and movies remained rosy in our minds, sometimes becoming more fondly remembered with each passing year. And all of us, at one time or another, have managed to revisit some of these same TV shows and movies many years after first seeing them. I think you know where I'm going with this; when we see those TV shows and movies with now grown-up eyes, we frequently find we are saying to ourselves, "I liked this?!?" or "What happened? This is terrible!"

Several fond movie memories I've personally had since my youth have been ruined by revisits in my adult years. As a result, it's made me somewhat reluctant to revisit a lot of movies I still have fond memories of. Until recently, one of these movies was The Flight Of Dragons. I remembered that when I saw it on TV many years ago, I loved it. At the time, I thought it was pure magic, an imaginative, original, interesting, and smart animated feature. For years afterwards, with it being unavailable, I kept thinking A "drag" race? fondly of it. But when I finally found it available on video, I was reluctant to watch it, for the reasons I stated earlier. Finally, I decided to take a chance, seeing that it was a Rankin/Bass production, the same team that had done The Last Unicorn, one of my favorite animated features. My opinion of the movie after rewatching it after all of these years? While it is not the flawless jewel that I remembered it to be, it's still a gem of a significantly high carat, one valuable enough to qualify for the label "hidden treasure". At the very least, it was enough to erase the bad taste generated by last week's Pinocchio In Outer Space.

This fantasy tales takes place long, long ago, back when wizards, dragons, and unicorns walked the same earth as ordinary man did, a time when science and magic coexisted together. But at the point where the movie starts, things are no longer in harmony. Carolinus (voiced by Harry Morgan), one of the four most powerful wizards on earth, is the first to sense something is wrong. Not only does he This is what happens when you don't wipe with paper after using the toilet find that the power of his magic is fading, he sees with his own eyes how the magic of things around him seems to be weakening. He calls an emergency meeting with his three wizard brothers, and together they agree that there is only one possible explanation for the declining power of magic: Given the choice between magic or the knowledge of science and logic, mankind is slowly shifting towards science and logic, because the choice is so.... logical. This isn't just a danger for everything that is magic - Carolinus knows that it isn't just that magic needs mankind in order to exist, but man needs magic to inspire him, to keep him from staying primitive and without love of life.

But he has a plan to save both magic and mankind from extinction. If all four wizards combine their remaining magical powers together, they will be able to create a magic realm shielded and separate from the world they currently live in, yet will still be able to send man the magical influence he needs to prosper. Two of Carolinus' brothers agree to the plan, but the evil brother Ommadon (voiced by James Earl Jones) absolutely refuses to"Why do us villains never go to the orthodontist?" be exiled into this "retirement home", and declares he will wage war on man with evil ideas and feelings, and let man destroy himself. Forbidden by the laws of antiquity to interfere with a fellow wizard, even one as evil as Ommadon, Carolinus calls on the fates to bring forth a hero who'll go on a quest to stop Ommadon. To Carolinus' surprise, the fates not only choose a man from the 20th century - Peter (voiced by John Ritter), an imaginative though unadventurous fellow - but one who is a man of science. Peter, though thrilled to be in a place that fills him with such wonder, is also puzzled by why he was chosen, and how he could possibly defeat such a powerful wizard. And the quest hasn't even begun to start!

It's probably clear to most readers that this is not your typical kiddie cartoon, where it would ordinarily be just aimed at the young. The Flight Of Dragons manages to be more intelligent and ambitious, yet it still remains on a level that children can access and understand it. It finds things that would not just interest kids, but adults as well. Have you ever wondered why all dragons in fantasy stories seem to sleep on gold? This movie gives us an explanation that even kids would find logical and understandable. Or how about the question as to how dragons, with their sheer size and weight, are able to fly, let alone exhale fire? Even as a child, I found that the answer was not too complex for me to understand, and as an adult, it still convinced and satisfied me.

The movie doesn't just find topics that will interest both kids and adults, but it also presents everything at a level that's not too condescending for adults, nor out of reach for kids. It assumes the audience is of reasonable intelligence, so we don't get anything like wise-cracking animal sidekicks in an attempt to entertain us. (There is comic relief in this movie, but it's of a more subtle nature, and only sporadic.) The movie takes its time to get going, and it assumes that we'll find every scene of interest, even if it isn't action-packed or filled with laffs. Before Peter starts on his quest, he pauses for a drink with Carolinus, learns about the book that he'll write in the future, and sits by the pond with Carolinus for a romantic talk.

There is always something of interest about these little moments, even though they may not have anything to do with the crisis at hand. I will admit that in the second half of the movie, even though each moment remains entertaining, I was kind of wishing that they'd get back onto the quest itself. The biggest problem I had with the mo"Wizard, I got this high in college *without* magic!"vie was that there was not enough "questing"; I would have liked to have seen more of the heroes struggling with the main crisis at hand. No, I was never bored or annoyed, but I sure would have liked to have seen more sword and sorcery. Another problem I had with the second half of the movie is that it introduces to us a number of new characters that join up on the quest. I didn't have a problem with that itself, but I did have a problem that each character seemed to come in as a kind of deux ex machina for whatever crisis the party was currently encountering. Also, while the newly introduced characters have a lot of promise, there's not much done with them after they are introduced. I think it would have been better had the movie stayed with just a few characters in the party. Still, the movie manages to generate much fondness for all the characters, whether they were fleshed out or not, so I didn't find this a great concern.

The level of animation is serviceable. By today's standards it may not be as slick and as detailed, but for the period - and considering that this movie was made for television "Pardon me, dragon, can you direct us to Bilbo Baggins's village?"during that period - it's pretty good. Mixing American and Japanese animation styles, there is occasionally a resulting character design where the styles didn't gel (Peter looks pretty bland, and the acid worm looks remarkably goofy). But on the whole, the character design, backgrounds, and colors are pleasing enough to the eye. Anyway, I have always considered the script of an animated feature more important that the animation itself. It gives us a real magical world here, a world of magical characters and situations. It's a world where we know we won't go for very long without seeing another wonder, something that captures our interest, or makes us think. There may not be a strong constant thread in The Flight Of Dragons, but all its moments of warmth, imagination, and interest combine to make magic.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check Amazon for source book "The Flight Of Dragons" by Peter Dickinson
Check for 2nd source "The Dragon & The George" by Gordon Dickson
Check Amazon for "The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass"

See also: Barefoot Gen, Hearts And Armour, The Last Unicorn

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