How come Pixar doesn’t have any sword and sorcery movies? Is Disney still scared by the results of Black Cauldron? Well, never fear because Warner Archive scratches that itch with the Rankin/Bass classic The Flight of Dragons.
When I think of classic animated works from TV in my childhood, I think of Rankin/Bass. Probably most widely known for their holiday specials like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer among many more, they also made numerous feature-length animation films like the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings animated films. The Flight of Dragons is another film in their catalog just after The Last Unicorn and before The Wind in the Willows. Yeah, I said they were behind a lot of classic animated works for TV.
The Flight of Dragons fits in pretty well with other Rankin/Bass TV features. The story starts as the Red Wizard Ommadon decides to use fear to drive humans to destroy themselves over time. His wizard brothers are not allowed to fight him directly, so they determine that they must gather a band of heroes together to fight Ommadon. They gather the knight Sir Orin and the dragon Gorbash with some magical items to aid them on their journey. To fight alongside them, the magical force of Antiquity directs them to find a man of science from the future. From modern day they select a scientist turned board game designer, Peter Dickenson. After bringing him to the past, he is accidentally merged with Gorbash. Perhaps a dream come true to be merged with his favorite mythical creature, he still must learn the world of being a dragon and come to terms with the world of magic to fight alongside his band of heroes.
This looks and feels just like a Rankin/Bass fantasy film of the era. While this style of animation may be off-putting to those who have grown up on animation from the late 2000s to now, this is quite familiar and comforting to me and others who grew up with this era. And for the early 80s, The Flight of Dragons has pretty good quality animation. The voice work is also quite solid. Experienced voice actors are joined in this production with James Earl Jones as the Red Wizard and John Ritter as Peter Dickenson.
The story is likewise fitting with the era of Rankin/Bass animation. It focuses on a magical realm with knights, wizards, and dragons. The story balances these concepts with the modern day science. The blend and balance of magic against science become an important part of the story and Peter’s journey. Now, the story doesn’t feature as much allegory to society as Zootopia nor is it as deep as Toy Story. The story here is far lighter fare and each has its place. Any animation fan should be able to enjoy this simple fun fare because The Flight of Dragons does it well and pleases.
Technical Side: 3/5
Warner Archive presents The Flight of Dragons in a 16×9 transfer. The movie was apparently originally intended to get some kind of theatrical run before it aired as a TV feature. As such Warner releases it this way considering it the theatrical version. Warner also supplies the disc with a DTS-HD 2.0 audio track that sounds very clean. I found no noticeable problems in the relatively simple track.
Special Features and Packaging: 2/5
TV Version in SD: I’m a little torn about this. I’m glad they included the original TV version. Those who remember this as a TV special and from the VHS tapes of it will recognize the film as this more than the included 16×9 theatrical cut (which does actually have a different runtime). However, putting this out on a BD-50, I really wish they had cleaned up this print to make it look as clean as the 16×9 cut. Still, we have to be realistic as to what they can really clean up to include on a regular priced disc. Overall, I think it shows some real care to include both cuts and aspect ratios.
That’s it. An important inclusion, but that is all they included with this one.
The Flight of Dragons Overall: 3/5
The Flight of Dragons isn’t some classic that everyone has to see. Regardless, it is a fun throwback to the animation of the era. Similarly, I don’t think it is the best or most timeless of the Rankin/Bass classics, but it does what it does well and is worth seeing. Any animation fan should give it a watch. Warner Archive gave us a solid 16×9 transfer as well as porting the SD transfer from the previous DVD. The audio preserves the solid voice acting. All in all, this release is definitely worth your time and your dollar if you are a Rankin/Bass or animation fan.