A little while back, Dawn wrote about watching the Rankin/Bass animated Hobbit, arguably the studio’s most well-known traditionally animated piece. However, as a kid, I had another favorite Rankin/Bass movie that was significantly less popular: Flight of Dragons. It was a direct to video release, and we had it taped onto a VHS along with other random things (possibly a Hannah Barbara Don’t Do Drugs special). It was a story about science, fantasy, love, and magic, and I think one of the best, if mostly overlooked things of the 80’s.
The basic story of Flight of Dragons is that the world is at a point where magic is being forgotten and men are switching over to machines and science. There are four wizards still remaining, and one of them wants to save Magic by sequestering it into a hidden world. However, of the four wizards, three of them agree and the fourth, the Red Wizard Ommadon who controls the dark places of the world, decides that running away to a magical hiding place is not the right move, and he’d rather just fight man and control the world himself. The other four wizards realize that this is a bad idea, but they are forbidden to take action against their brother. Thus, they begin a quest that involves various members of both their world and the world of science. In fact, that main character is a man, Peter, who lives in the world of science but likes to dream about the world of magic and dragons. He gets pulled into that world to lead the quest against Ommadon and that’s when things get interesting.
There are a few things that I really enjoyed about Flight of Dragons as a kid, and I think these hold up well over time. For a large portion of the movie, Peter is turned into a dragon. As a dragon, he has to learn things like how to fly and how to breathe fire. For this, they explain scientifically what would cause a dragon to be able to accomplish these things. It’s great as the older dragon talk about eating the gemstones and fire rock (limestone) and making the fire in the belly, and Peter explains how it creates hydrogen and the air heats creating a blimp, making the dragon fly. This video includes that particular clip, although it will not embed. There are many instances of magic versus science, and the final battle hinges on that idea. As a scientist who loves fantasy worlds, I think that’s the thing that draws me to this movie over and over again.
Watching this movie again as an adult, I’m actually a bit surprised that I enjoyed it as a kid. It has many adult topics. Characters live and die and are in extreme peril at times. Ommadon is pretty frightening, and there are a number of other evil creatures that nearly destroy the party. The themes and dialogue are very adult, and I felt like the movie was still as interesting to me, if not more so, watching recently versus when I was young. Also, even though it has a male-heavy cast, the archer Danielle is an excellent example of a strong woman done well in a fantasy movie.
For a movie that most people have never heard of, their cast is actually quite impressive. The main wizard is voiced by Harry Morgan and the evil Ommadon by The Voice himself James Earl Jones. A young John Ritter voices sir Peter, the scientist turned dragon. Most of the other voices are Rankin/Bass regulars who were involved in favorites such as The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn. The theme song to Flight of Dragons was sung by Don McLean.
If you want to see Flight of Dragons, there aren’t too many options. Youtube has a number of videos that put together correctly probably include most of the movie, although some are removed due to copyright. You can purchase the DVD (or VHS if you are so inclined) from Amazon. There are also some fans trying to put together and fund a live action movie version of Flight of Dragons.
If you haven’t seen Flight of Dragons, I highly recommend it. It was a staple of my childhood and probably did a lot to shape the person I am today. Enjoy the opening clip.