The Flight of Dragons
is one of the best animated fantasy films I've ever seen. Its combination of intelligent story and heartfelt characterization distinguishes it from the majority of animated films during the time it was released and has helped it to achieve a cult classic status.
Produced and directed by the Rankin/Bass
team responsible for the 1977 animated film of The Hobbit
and the 1980 film of The Return of the King
, The Flight of Dragons
has a similar visual motif and style as those other animated films, and like them it also includes a great folk soundtrack.
The film's script has a bit of a convoluted history.
The story is taken in part from the idea that dragons actually did exist in our world's prehistory and that they evolved from dinosaurs. This was a theory posited within a speculative history book by an author named Peter Dickinson
. In his book Dickinson suggested the possibility of dragons having existed in reality and what happened to them. The book takes a pseudo-scientific look at what conditions would be needed for a dragon to fly, how they could produce fire, and what their physiognomy might have been. The title of the film comes from the title of the Dickinson's book, The Flight of Dragons
, and the main character in the film is named after Dickinson.
The story is also taken in part from a series of fantasy novels by Gordon R. Dickson
, the first novel of which is entitled The Dragon and the George
, and tells of a man who is magically transported from the real world into a fantasy world of magic, where he is turned into a dragon. Most of the names for the characters and the adventure aspect of the film are taken from this novel.
Additionally, the script for the film adds new elements.
The film takes place between two worlds: our world, which is the rational world of science and logic, and the world of magic, where sorcerers and wizards are commonplace. The drama from the story derives primarily from the conflict between these two worlds and from the idea that in the world of magic people are becoming skeptical and the wizards and sorcerers are losing their powers as mankind turns to technology and begin looking to the powers of the future, rather than the belief in the superstitions of the past. This creates an interesting dichotomy thematically, but the film is careful to show that neither science/logic or magic/faith is complete unto itself and that there must be an inherent balance between the two lest the universe fall into disharmony.
Amidst all of this, a young man from our world is transported to the world of magic where he is accidentally transformed into a dragon and he must now learn to apply his knowledge of science to the world of magic uniting the two powers in order to become human again and to defeat the forces of evil which would conquer both worlds.
Another reason the film stands up so well is the voice cast which features John Ritter
, James Earl Jones
, Victor Buono
, Paul Frees
, Harry Morgan
, and Bob McFadden
. It's hard to expound upon what an excellent job these actors have done in giving the characters life. People often don't realize how important the voice cast is in making an animated film believable and emotionally involving. One of the things that Rankin/Bass
did so well during this period was to assemble truly talented actors to give the characters depth and sincerity.
Featuring dazzling animation, a clever and involving story, and a great soundtrack by Don McLean
, the film is for me one of the smartest nostalgia kicks out there. So often when I look back on my favorite movies as child I find that they are pretty disappointing or downright pathetic in retrospect, but The Flight of Dragons
still shines as brightly as a beacon of quality fantasy storytelling in the dead of night.