I got to thinking about Harry Morgan’s passing, and I came to remember where I first heard his voice. Strange enough, but I knew his voice before his physical appearance. When I was a kid (and some would question if I wasn’t still a kid) I use to be obsessed with a Rankin/Bass animated movie called “The Flight of Dragons.” It had a hero, dragons, wizards, a handsome knight, a beautiful ranger, an elf, etc. It was the makings of a D&D game. There was even a board game involved (as a kid I bought a lot of D & D choose your own adventure novels at yard sales with my grandmother).
The Flight of Dragons was a 1982 animated movie produced by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. (creators of the classic holiday cartoons Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty, The Snowman) which loosely combined “The Flight of Dragons” by Peter Dickinson (1979) with the novel “The Dragon and the George” by Gordon R. Dickson (1976). The film focuses upon a quest undertaken to stop an evil wizard who plans to rule the world by dark magic. A major theme within the story is the question of whether science and magic can co-exist. This is told mostly through the experience of character Peter Dickinson, drawn from the 20th Century into the magical realm.
The Flight of Dragons aired as an ABC ‘Movie of the Week’ in 1986.
The Flight of Dragons Intro
The animated movie features an excellent voice cast – Harry Morgan, John Ritter, James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader), Don Messick (voice of Scooby Doo, Papa Smurf), Bob McFadden (voice of Thundercats’s Snarf), Victor Buono (Count Manzeppi in The Wild Wild West, King Tut in Batman), and James Gregory (Lt. Gen. Robert ‘Iron Guts’ Kelly on M*A*S*H, Dr. Tristan Adams in “Dagger of the Mind” on the OG Star Trek series).
Why is The Flight of Dragons worth watching? Why was it special to me?
As a child, I wasn’t exposed to many books. I grew up in a rural part of Virginia. We just didn’t have much. My grandmother had a few books – mostly Stephen King and romance novels. At school, I got a few books through the Scholastic program – when my poor mother could afford to buy me something. Our library was rather pathetic. Though I did get to read some Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and few other’s works. The first book with many pages I read was Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. I was 5. Not that a lot of the themes stood out for me, I just enjoyed as a scary adventure, which would immediately result in my seeking shelter behind my grandmother’s back and under the covers that night. I was terrified of the pitch black nights in the country. It’s an eeriness you just can’t find in the city. Sorry, I am really deviating from my intended answer to the proposed questions.
So, with a limited selection of books, I had my imagination and television. I didn’t have cable television. I had only regular channels and good old UHF. Also, I grew up most of my childhood without a color television and the TV we had was 13″. Also, did I mention – we didn’t have a telephone. TV was my buddy. Through it, I got see more about life, and I came to understand more about my world. I watched the news with my grandmother. I watched television shows like Dallas, Falcon Crest, Hunter, etc. However, I coveted Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday movies.
My cousin exposed me to The Flight of Dragons. When I would visit, I demanded to watch the movie along with Dune. Over at my aunt’s, she had a disc player that used a cartridge. It wasn’t a laser disc. I was obsessed with watching Harry Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans, Barbarella, Vincent Price’s House of Wax, and Sinbad. Sometimes I would also watch Jason and the Argonauts.
However, what I loved to watch the most was The Flight of Dragons. But, why?
It wasn’t a sugar-coated animated film. It was dark and fantastical with intelligent and mature themes spread throughout. I am sure some children were confused by the themes but it is an animated film that was still stimulating for both children and adults.
Childhood vs. Adulthood
Good vs. Evil
Logic vs. Emotion
Realty (i.e Science) vs. Fantasy (i.e. Magic)
For as evil is a part of all things, evil is a part of magic.
-Carolinus (Harry Morgan)
Blade with whom I have lived, blade with whom I now die, serve right and justice one last time, seek one last heart of evil, still one last life of pain, cut well old friend, and then farewell.
-Sir Orin Neville Smythe
Sounds almost like Inigo Montoya From Princess Bride.
There was time between the waning age of enchantment and the dawning age of logic when dragons flew the skies, free and unencumbered. Look down there Gorbash, my friend. On the top of the earth below us, confusion and chaos reign. All mankind is facing an epic choice: a world of magic or a world of science. Which will it be? -Carolinus (Harry Morgan)
The story is not full of the typical over the top action found in many fantasy films. It is a believable tale that could have very easily turned into a rip off Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but it has a story that can stand on it’s own. It’s rather an minor homage to Tolkien.
The animation style was created by Japanese animators. Its quirky and shared some similarities to other works of Japanese Animation such as Star Blazers and Voltron. However, it was a hodge podge of style that made it on its own and was not a true copy of another animation film. The animation was lead by Toru Hara, who had worked on Miyazaki’s Nausicaa and would work in the future as producer on other Studio Ghibli films – My Neighbor Totoro and Graveyard of the Fireflies.
Despite having a few flaws like cliches and an epic story with a less than epic ending (i.e. it definitely wasn’t like Gandalf fighting the Balrog whilst falling down a deep chasm), this story even with it’s dark, thoughtfulness had charm, humor, warmth, and it didn’t sugar coat the ending. The ending chafes. I say this because we see the separation of the mystical from the logical, scientific. This is a bit saddening because everything we do in life should have a little magic in it. However, I think when people examine the ending, they might narrowly interpret the separation. I will let you be the judge.
It’s a great film that can appeal to children and adults. Some adults, who just aren’t tapped into magic *wink*, might have a hard time with the cliches and the ending. Finally, I think children will still be pleased despite the lack of 90MPH pacing and CGI.