The Flight of Dragons

Fight of Dragons

You know that saying “they just don’t make them like they used to”? As clichéd as it is, it rings true. Rankin-Bass, outside their stop-motion holiday specials, never really received the notoriety that Disney and Don Bluth obtained through their efforts of high-quality fantasy animation. Rankin-Bass’ films were considerably darker and more violent than the competition, with stylish Japanese animation rivaling the American productions. And while their reign was sadly short lived, Rankin-Bass managed to release three of my all-time favorite animated fantasy films: the Hobbit, the Last Unicorn and, you guessed it, the Flight of Dragons.

Based on the Peter Dickenson book, “the Dragon and George”; ages ago, the worlds of magic and logic lived side by side. However, the mortals of Earth began to choose logic over magic, and as their belief in magic waned, the magical beings of the world began to thin out. Carolinus (Harry Morgan), the Green Wizard, summons a meeting of his brothers to discuss the matter. The wizards agree to consolidate all the remaining magic of the world into an invisible place called the Realm of Magic, before it all dies out. However, Ommadon (James Earl Jones), the vile Red Wizard, refuses and declares that he will use his magic to influence the mortals to lay waste to the Earth. To counter this threat, Carolinus summons a scientist with an affinity for fantasy, Peter (John Ritter), from the 20th century. Peter is to lead a quest to take Ommadon’s red crown and save the Realm of Magic. However, shortly after arriving, Peter is accidentally merged with a dragon named Gorbash (Cosie Costa). Peter is distraught, as he does not understand how to be a dragon. Mentoring him is Smrgol (James Gregory), Gorbash’s elderly uncle, and accompanying him on his journey is Sir Orin (Bob McFadden), the chivalrous knight, Giles of the Treeptops (Don Messick), the cowardly wood elf, and several others.

Animated fantasy films geared for family viewing just aren’t made like this, anymore. Animated films these days have to be filled with overbearing celebrity voice-overs, “clever” pop culture references and endless amounts of trendy humor. Rankin-Bass’ films never put celebrity flavors of the month over the story (I’m looking at you, Shark Tale, Robots and Shrek). This isn’t “JAMES EARL JONES AND JOHN RITTER in the flight of dragons”. The voice acting in this movie is excellent, to say the least. James Earl Jones is perfect as the villainous Ommadon, and surprisingly, doesn’t channel much Darth Vader into the role. John Ritter plays a fine Sir Peter, who gets the whole wide-eyed “boy this is great!” attitude across wonderfully. The other players are all excellent, as well, especially Bob McFadden as Sir Orin and James Gregory as the grumpy Smrgol. Don Messick, one of the greatest cartoon voice actors, stands out a bit too much, I’m afraid. His voice for Giles is fine, but his voice for Lo Tae Shao, the Golden Wizard (of oriental influence), is a bit too stereotypically sing-songy and sort of takes you out of the experience just a little. The Golden Wizard is a minor player, all things considered, so it isn’t that big of a deal.

The animation was provided by Japan’s Topcraft Studios, which was one of their finest animation studios at the time. Most of the animators who worked for Topcraft eventually left to form Studio Ghibli. So, as a result, the animation in this film is just as pretty as in their work for the Last Unicorn, the Hobbit or Nausicaa. The animation direction was provided by Fumihiko Takayama, whom you anime buffs might recognize for his work in Gunparade March, Gundam 0080 and Bubblegum Crisis. The assistant animation director, Katsuhisa Yamada, is known for his work on Genesis Climber Mospeada (called Robotech the New Generation in the US), Gatchaman (called Battle of the Planets and G-Force in the US) and as the animation director for both Hobbit and its unfortunate sequel, Return of the King. Though the animation might seem a bit “dated”, it remains beautiful by 1982 standards.

I suppose if I had to think of any real complaint about the film, it would have to be that it’s a fair bit too cut-and-dry. There aren’t a lot of plot twists and it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what happens next or even how the film is going to end. Still, if you keep in mind that this film was produced for a family audience, which includes children, the plot isn’t any less complex than what you’d see in a Disney or Don Bluth offering. Not all the characters get too fleshed out, particularly the ones who join Sir Peter’s quest halfway through. I’ve never read the book, but I imagine they have more personality and depth in that version.

As of this writing, Warner Bros (who now own Rankin-Bass’ library) has not seen fit to release the Flight of Dragons on DVD, though they’ve covered practically every other Rankin-Bass film ever made. It seems almost a crime, really, considering how good a fantasy film this is. I hope Warner Bros rectifies this oversight sometime very, very soon. Still, if you can find this film on video or through “other means”, I can’t recommend it enough. Your kids will certainly love it, and there’s a good chance you will, too.

Grade: B+

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15 Comments on “The Flight of Dragons

  1. hi,
    i was wondering where i can buy this film for a uk dvd player.
    Any chance some could help?? Thanks

  2. dragons are brave and strong care about all so pure
    wish hope they bring the movie back to life 2009

  3. I loved this move as a kid and so do my kids we had the vhs and watched it until it broke, now I would like to find them the dvd of it for christmas but have not had any luck. This is one of the great movies for kids of all times.

  4. When I little girl I watched this movie for the first time and at 5 years old I remember quite a bit about what I thought-
    O wow its dragons…and they’re FAT dragons!
    I had honestly never seen a dragon look like that-The ones I’d seen in books and art had all been slim,built, and agile with large wings and beautiful colors.
    I remember thinking these looked oddly different because they had ‘beards’ and small wing with dull-colored blimpy bodies and seemed rather slow.
    I watched it and never thought anything more on the matter. It instantly became my favorite movie- Everytime we went to the movie store my brother got ‘Ninja Turtles,Earthworm Jim or (my personal favorite) Ahh! Scary Monsters for our Sega Genisis
    I always got Flight of Dragons, The Last Unicorn, Or Dot and the Whale (Most times Flight of Dragons) It was in the orginal VHS box and I loved drawing the pictures of it.
    14 years later~
    I became a ‘self taught’ artist along the way and to this day my favorite thing to draw are the dragons and other fairy-tale creatures I remember encountering from that video.
    I had a friend who was going to buy me the VHS in 1998(8 years old) but the cover art had changed and I didn’t want it with out the original art
    The new box looked like a cheap drawing compared to the old one.
    -(8 year old defiance)

    Its now 2009 and I’m 19 years old-I went quite a while without seeing this treasure of a movie. I finally watched it on with little hunting and realized that the days when cartoon movies came out in theaters (Lion King) and actually made a profit compared to ‘grownup movies’ is now over
    VHS is no longer and New Good Animated Movies in general are few and far between.
    I always grew up with Winnie the Pooh-A Blustery Windsday, Barney and Bob-D-Bop, and the Bearnstein Bear Books by my bedside table-complete with cassete player and a nitelight near the bed. And all the movies from Disney and Universal Cartoons like-We’re Back (A Dinosaur Story) and ‘The Pagemaster’ along with ‘Home Alones’ and ‘Pete the Dragon’ have become old parts of a new technological era.
    Now its ‘Dora the Explorer’ and ‘Spongebob’ the ‘New’ Disney makes me uncomfortable with the sense that reality teen dramas are becoming big hits even with kids.
    Icarly,Drake and Josh,Thats So Raven and The Suite Life Of Zack and Cody and I can’t stand High School Musical.
    Everyone seems to think 19 isn’t old but I look back to this film and see now Studio Ghibli’s Animated MasterPiece-Spirited Away and the new Video Games and Internet Sites and Even All Digital TV and DVR(This would have saved my parents from many tantrums of-I can’t its not over yet) along with Blu Ray and new child meds(not just dimatyp anymore)…It all has me asking but am I really that young?
    I guess like each generation:For-Fathers/Veterans/Baby Boomers/and Golden this age will probably be marked as the Era of Technology-I went to see one form of media(VHS) Become completely unused in less than a decade and the first black president become a reality (Proud White Supporter of Obama).
    I sit now in my own apt-sipping coffee,paying bills, while using a digital tablet to draw things on my computer.It has more abilities than any art medium and is easier clean up then any pencil and erasers. My greatgreat grandmother looks so fragile and old at 99 years she still uses an old type-writer from the 60’s.
    And thinking about these thing makes me wonder and realize-
    19 is an numeral-It doesn’t show my experiences or my wisdom-it doesn’t show my personality or my creativity. It is a number I’ve been given every year-And it means little besides that.
    I will always be a dragon at heart-And this movie is not afraid to show such things as courage,character,loyalty,and strong bonds all of which pass and transcend our time and space both magic and logic.
    Have a good year-and may it only be another number.

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  6. Just a little correction here- The Dragon and the George was written by Gordon R. Dickson and provided a loose inspiration for plot elements of the movie. The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson is a (unfortunately now out of print) speculative “study” on how dragons may have evolved and lived if they had existed, basing the fantastic elements of legends in scientific principles. It only provided the “scientific” details about dragons- for example the “blimp” principle for flight and breathing fire to release excess gas.

    That said, it is a great, though slightly uneven fantasy film- i agree with most of what you’ve said in your review.

  7. As for me… I think Flight of Dragons is one of the best animated films ever made. It’s dark and violent, yet filled with joy and humour. But above all it weaves science into fantasy and has certainly played a part in forming my adult mind. I love it to bits.

    I have the VHS but i want it on DVD. I’ve seen websites that seem to have it- etc. are these just bootlegs do you think?

  8. I’m fairly sure there is no official DVD of this film, and that any DVD version you see is a bootleg.

  9. Back and just wanted to inform that there is as of 2009 NO OFFICIAL DVD! Since Renkin Bass has now been disbanded there may only be a dvd if another company decides to pitch one. I had no idea the book was out of print-Since I’ve owned one for 7 years. But maybe you can find one at your nearest second hand book place-half price books or something. Buy guys have another great Xmas!

  10. DVD Released November of 2009 bought it off amazon for about 20 dollars (US). Its part of the WB Archive Collection and can also be found at ENJOY!

  11. This is what cemented my love of magic/mystery/supernatural, etc. in film. I remember seeing this in the 80’s as a child and thinking, “Holy cow! That’s how they fly! It makes sense! Magic backed up by Science, great!”
    It seemed like the concept gave me permission to believe as only a child can for a little while longer, and I treasure this movie for that reason. I think it’s also where I began my love of anthropology and evolution, as well. I wanted to know more!! And that’s what was so fantastic about these cartoons (and several others from the period), children absorbed pretty complex and mature concepts through simple and effective story-telling, feeding their curiosity and desire to learn.

  12. Couldn’t have put it better myself Brittni. I think it’s where the Darwinist in me was born also.

  13. how did they get james gregorys voice in the flight of dragons to transform into Smrgols? smrgols voice is so echoy and booming and metallic all at once. id really like to figure out how they did that.

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