Aug 2, 2013

[Movies] The Flight of Dragons (1982)

We're taking a little break from my exploration of Alfred Hitchcock movies (primarily because I need to secure copies of his other titles first) and celebrating the fact that August is my birth month! So for all Fridays in August, I'll be posting reviews of movies released during my birth year of 1982, just to celebrate the culture of the period. And as I went over the possible movies, I found myself focusing on the many animated movies released at the time.

The Flight of Dragons is actually a cartoon that I only got to watch a few years ago because of my partner, Tobie. He was insistent that I watch it and finally doing so was quite the experience indeed. It's quite the lovely magical tale and it's a shame that the movie never saw a wider theatrical release.

This is a story that is deeper than it initially appears with a unique animation style that keeps things rather distinct as well. The message of the story is a complex one when you really think about it - but I feel many cartoon features of the 80's share this trait.

Synopsis: The Flight of Dragons is a 1982 direct-to-video animated movie produced by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr., who also directed the movie together with Fumihiko Takayama and Katsuhisa Yamada. It was loosely based on two different books - The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson and The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson.

In some mysterious, magical lang, the Green Wizard Carolinus (Harry Morgan) discovers that magic is beginning to fail because of human's increased belief in science. Thus he calls out to his brother wizards - these being the Golden Wizard Lo Tae Zhao (Don Messick), the Blue Wizard Solarious (Paul Frees), and the Red Wizard Ommadon (James Earl Jones). They come with their respective dragons - Shen Tsu, Lunarian and Bryagh (James Gregory) to hear of Carolinus's plan.

Carolinus proposes to create a Last Realm of Magic - essentially a place separate from the rest of the world where they can live in secret. However Ommadon, the Red Wizard, disagrees and instead sets out to take control of the entire world instead. The brothers have sworn an oath to never directly harm one another, thus the must use proxies to face Ommadon and destroy his crown - the source of his magical powers. Initially they gather Carolinus's dragon Gorbash (Bob McFadden) and the knight Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe (also Bob McFadden), but a third is needed to follow the forms. Thus they end up with the human named Peter (John Ritter), who has created a board game whose pieces resemble the wizards and their dragons. Thus the party, armed with certain magical boons from the wizards, set out to face the Red Wizard and hopefully save the world of magic for everyone.

The animation style will either make you feel nostalgic for an older animation era or you'll just find it rather dated compared to modern CGI masterpieces. Personally I love the art style - it has a certain charm that seems almost unique to this movie and not often seen in other movies. Throw in the rather diverse and highly talented voice cast and you certainly have a most interesting set of talent involved in the movie.

The central premise - that the worlds of magic are inevitably at war with one another because of their very natures - is a rather old one, but a good one. It's a rich source for stories for many writers and even video game developers and how the two interact is a fascinating little struggle. And this movie really tries to bring this conflict to the fore not just in terms of the wizards trying to survive but also with the diversity of our little party trying to save the world.

The role of Peter as sort of the skeptical human who represents science is both the most powerful individual in the realm and the weakest. He seems weak since he has no magic of his own but he's also strong because his very disbelief in magic is what is also destroying. Thus he's a lot more dangerous than he realizes - something that we get to see as the movie progresses.

I love how diverse the wizards are beyond their selected colors. Each rules a distinct realm of magic and the very art style of their respective realms is kept unique and distinct from one another. Even their personalities somewhat reflect their realms and how the brothers actually manage to work together is a bit of a mystery. Then you get to their dragons, which also try to emulate the cultures that inspired them to a nice little degree.

These days, watching The Flight of Dragons is bound to be a major nostalgia trip because of the art style and voices alone. It has a very well though-out story and one that I now hold rather dear to me even if I saw it more than 20 years late. I rate the movie as 4 dragon feats that the characters perform out of a possible 5.

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