Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Flight Of Dragons

Be afraid of this cutesy cover art!

 So nice to see you again, blog followers! I know we've been taking on a more family-friendly route lately and talking about fairy tales but I'm certain today's film may be a little more darker for your enjoyment but not to dark that you can't watch with your children if you ever get a chance to come across The Flight Of Dragons. Now the movie gets its source material from two sources that might be more to the liking of older teens and since this was around the time that Dungeons & Dragons was reaching maximum momentum, I could see the appeal to a much broader audience. Now since all of us have grown up with Rankin-Bass thanks to their many Christmas themed specials over the years, they must have come to realize that the little kids that use to love Rudolph were getting older so they started dabbling in more adult themed animated features and specials. In 1976, author Gordon Dickson wrote a novel called The Dragon And The George and three years later, author Peter Dickinson wrote another book that focused less on fantasy and more on the nature of dragons as if they really existed called of course The Flight Of Dragons. Taking more from Dickson's book than Dickinson's (confused yet?) yet slapping the more exciting title of the latter on the film, we are taken into the world of fantasy and magic and well...why don't we just start from the beginning like we always do?

What's The Plot?
It seems that magic is beginning to die as humans embrace the ways of science every passing day more and more. This becomes very clear to the Green Wizard Carolinus so he summons his fellow magical "brothers" to meet and discuss plans to create a realm where the last bits of magic can come together and stand a chance of existing hidden from men. His brothers The Blue Wizard Solarius and The Yellow Wizard Lo Tae Zhao of course agree but the last brother, The Red Wizard Ommadon doesn't seem to keen on the idea of hiding from mortal men but ruling them instead. This is our villain, ladies and gentlemen, and you can tell from the not so subtle hints of his character well look at him...

Yes his robe, shifty eyes and goblin features make him clearly not evil!!

Besides Ommadon being a threat it seems that in this fantasy world, the four magical brothers can not war against each other (hence I guess the trying to co-exist together?) but if a band of three heroes can be formed to go on a quest and destroy his very powerful crown that seems to be okay. Carolinus' very young and exuberant dragon Gorbash is more than happy to volunteer and Carolinus also sends word to a brave knight, Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe, to request his aid. One hero short, Carolinus is given advice from the Silver Tree of Antiquity ( just go with me here it is a fantasy/sword & sorcery kind of time...) to find a man of science and magic who is also a descendent of the man who tamed and taught the dragons how to speak.

Meet Gorbash now...he's got no idea what's in store...

 This leads Carolinus to Boston in the 20th Century and Peter Dickinson (yay for self-promoting!) who is a very bright and scientific young man but also seems to have his head in the world of fantasy as he is working on a book (wink wink) about the science of dragons but also designing a very Dungeons & Dragon-esque board game where his game pieces seem to eerily look like Carolinus, his brothers and Gorbash. This is enough to convince Carolinus that Peter is the one so he transports Peter to this magical land and drafts him into the quest. Peter really doesn't seem to mind after he meets Carolinus' adopted daughter, The Princess Melisande (hello romantic love interest!) but another little snag may just hinder this a bit...

I'm digging Melisande's take on the look Leia had on Endor!

Ommadon doesn't really seem too happy about this and sends his very literal dragon, Bryagh, to kill our hero and in an attempt to save Peter, Carolinus' waning magic accidentally merges Peter and Gorbash together seeing as the dragon was on his own way to save Peter (nice going there with your unpredictable magic, Carolinus!) Peter's mind is now inside Gorbash's very large dragon body and since he literally has no idea what he is doing, Gorbash's adopted uncle, an older dragon named Smrgol, is forced to join the quest and teach our hero how to be the very creature that has always fascinated him. Once Sir Orrin arrives the quest is ready to begin to travel to Ommadon's realm and destroy his crown of power. The trio set out and are soon joined by comrades like Danielle of The Woodlands, a fire-haired archer and Aragh, a very large, sentient wolf. Will this band of heroes be able to defeat Ommadon or will the bigger battle be between magic...and science?

I think Danielle has second thoughts on joining this quest

Do you remember me talking about Kiki's Delivery Service a few blog posts back and about how I absolutely love the animation and backgrounds of the film? A little trivia for you is that before Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli existed, he along with other animators worked for Topcraft, the anime company that did the work on all of Rankin-Bass's non-stop motion productions. Knowing that you can see another reason why I love The Flight Of Dragons because it was films such as this and The Last Unicorn that the company worked on before it went defunct in 1985 and allowed Miyazaki to create his own animation studio.

Carolinus, the wizard who got Peter in this pickle...

 Compare the animation in The Flight Of Dragons with something such as Rankin-Bass' Frosty's Winter Wonderland and you can tell how the animation progressed and become the beauty that we know today. The human characters are still quite well done but the animation of the backgrounds and the dragons is spectacular! Besides the animation, the film has a very beautiful musical score and the opening title song sung by Don McLean (of American Pie fame for those of you who didn't know) is gorgeous and even more so with the provided backdrop.

To make up for the above cover art terror, I give you this!

Another reason I love The Flight Of Dragons besides the aforementioned animation, music and fantasy elements (which I didn't state but isn't it obvious?) is the voice cast. Most of the voice cast for The Flight of Dragons may not be that very well known (the two biggest names I'll leave for last) to the audiences of today but being a child of the 80s who grew up on Nick At Nite when it use to play shows of the 1960s and 1970s I think the cast works wonderfully. There may be a few roles you recognize like Bob McFadden (Sir Orrin and Gorbash)? He voiced Snarf on Thundercats!

Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe in his more younger days

Talented voice actors like Larry Storch (who was also on F Troop) and Don Messick (the original Scooby Doo and many voices from our childhoods) also provide vocal work here. Harry Morgan from M*A*S*H provides the voice of Carolinus and I have to say he does a very good job going from drama to comedy with great ease. James Gregory, like McFadden, also does double voice work providing not only the voice of Smrgol but also of Bryagh which are on very opposite ends with one being a good guy like a kindly uncle and the other being a blood-thirsty despicable monster who almost kills our protagonist!

Best Smrgol quote: "Shut up and eat yer Limestone!"... you have to hear it to love it!

Well if you ever get a chance to find this film I will spoil it for you right now but minutes into the film it's hard not to notice that the villain Ommadon is voiced by none other James Earl "Darth Vader" Jones! I guess it's that voice of his that makes casting directors automatically think let's cast this guy as our main antagonist but James Earl Jones is more than just the guy with the deep voice fit for mostly menacing bad guys he is also a very talented Broadway, Emmy and Tony-award winning, Shakespearean actor. I don't know maybe he likes playing the villain as I have stated that a lot of actors seem to have more fun being bad guys but you also can't deny that James Earl Jones does have a nice speaking voice that draws your attention.

Remember LaserDisc? Maybe not but this cover's epic!

For me I saved the best for last as growing up I kind of had a crush on John Ritter who provides the voice of Peter Dickinson. I think it might have been those re-runs of Three's Company that attracted me physically to Ritter and his acting in Stephen King's IT that attracted me to how good an actor he truly was but seeing The Flight Of Dragons, where you can't see his face but can only hear the acting behind his voice, is what truly amazes me. Since his character is supposed to be very scientific he could have made the voice come of cold and stuck up but Ritter actually makes you like Peter from the first moment he appears. His voice is warm and at times, charming as it is befuddled, you can tell he is having fun and when the time comes for him to be dramatic, you can feel it. I also loved John Ritter because he was funny and seemed such a genuinely nice person that others came to love and that's why you couldn't help but be a fan of his work.  

Voiced by John Ritter makes nerds kinda sexy don't you think?

The Flight Of Dragons also makes me appreciate the cast voice work because most of the people who worked on this film are no longer with us and for most of the voice actors this was the last role of their careers (Victor Buono, who voiced Aragh, died just after finishing all his character's dialogue) so it makes the beauty and the magic all the more poignant. To bring you back from a very depressing place you can be happy to know that as of this writing Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass of Rankin & Bass fame are still alive in their late 80s/early 90s so just think about that and smile :)

Aragh may be a wolf but I just wanna hug him!

If you ever get a chance to find The Flight Of Dragons on DVD, don't let that cover fool you (as so many of them seem to do to classic children's films these days) and give it a viewing. There's comedy, action, adventure and romance for everyone and age need not apply. If like me you already remember this classic and maybe just want to watch it again to see if it still stands up to what you remember as a child then go for it. If the kid in you is disappointed that's fine...I'm sure the adult in you can find new things to appreciate just as I did...

**Found a trailer but not an original...seems like it was a fan trailer because the music didn't seem to fit and plus it was filled with way too many spoilers for those of you who have never seen it :( Don't worry though I hear there is a planned live-action remake coming next year so until that comes true enjoy this video...

NEXT BLOG: We are going to still delve into my childhood but we are going to leave fantasy behind and go on a different kind of adventure. Ready for some...Adventures In Babysitting?

1 comment:

  1. Nice review, this is one my favorite movies ever: the kind you watch as a kid and rediscover as an adult. I had (maybe still have) a major crush on Peter.