Western Animation / The Flight of Dragons

"Ugh, department store seersucker, all charred with dragon exhaust."

The Flight of Dragons is a Rankin/Bass Productions animated film, produced in 1982, but not aired until 1986. It is loosely adapted from Gordon R. Dickson's fantasy novel The Dragon and the George. However, it replaces the main character with Peter Dickinson, the real life author who wrote The Flight of Dragons, an art book that proposes scientific reasons for the prior existence of dragons. Got all that?

The film is a Heroic Fantasy in which a twentieth-century "man of science", named Peter Dickinson, travels to the world of magic to defeat Ommadon, an evil wizard who isn't happy that humans are choosing science over magic. Due to an accident, Peter ends up Sharing a Body with a dragon and he thus has to learn about how Our Dragons Are Different in order to survive. In the end, it turns out that the Powers That Be selected Peter because they needed someone who wouldn't clap his hands if he believed.

The film features a remarkably effective voice cast: the late John Ritter is highly sympathetic as Peter, Harry Morgan an amusingly eccentric Carolinus, Victor Buono (in his last role before his untimely death) a convincingly growly Aragh, James Gregory surprisingly lovable as the elderly dragon Smrgol (while also being chillingly menacing as the evil dragon Bryagh) — and James Earl Jones sonorous and magisterially evil as the Red Wizard Ommadon.

This film provides examples of:

  • Animesque: One of the Rankin/Bass films animated by Topcraft, like The Last Unicorn.
  • Arch-Enemy: Sir Orrin and Bryagh.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Red Crown of Ommadon, source of that wizard's dark power.
  • Badass Boast: Ommadon has an epic one.
    Ommadon: I am the world, and the world... is Ommadon."
  • Badass Bookworm: Peter, who uses scientific facts to unravel Ommadon's magic. His big heroic moment is invoking every discipline of mathematics and science in a Pre-Mortem One-Liner. Never has academia been so awesome.
  • Badass Creed: Sir Orrin's Last Stand.
    Sir Orrin: 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.
  • Balloon Belly: Dragons fly by literally inflating themselves with hydrogen. The wings are simply to steer.
  • Big Bad: Ommadon.
  • Boring but Practical: Carolinus suffers from some sort of chronic pain, and all the magical solutions he's tried so far failed to make it better. Peter guesses he must have stomach ulcers, and tells him to drink some milk. It works.
  • Bowdlerize: Most television broadcasts omit the scene of Peter/Gorbash and Smrgol getting drunk in the inn's basement.
  • Catch Phrase: "_______ is the greatest magic of all!" Imagination? Or is it inevitability? Or perhaps love?
  • Cessation of Existence: What Ommadon idiotically accomplishes in the ending. He refuses to relinquish the world to mankind and yield to science and logic. He finds out the hard way, all his curses, hexes and evil is nothing compared to the might of science harnessed for the good of all mankind.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Shield of Saturn and Flute of the Muses, given to the heroes at the beginning, each come in handy exactly once to overcome an obstacle.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Inverted; Peter Dickinson defeats Ommadon by denying the existence of magic. Science, on the other hand...
  • Color-Coded Wizardry: The four brothers each have an assigned color and element. Carolinus — green and earth; Lo Tae Shao — yellow and air; Solarius — blue and water; Ommadon — red and fire.
  • Cyclops: The giant ogre whose castle is the gate to Ommadon's kingdom.
    • He has two eyes, but he used to have three.
  • Daddy's Girl: Melisande to Carolinus. It doesn't really become evident until she's in her weird coma, at which point he calls her "my darling, darling child" and weeps copiously. Possibly the most genuinely moving scene in the whole film.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: What Peter does to Ommadon (and would probably do to Cthulhu or any other Eldritch Abomination for that matter). He denounces the wizard's true form, for nothing so evil or hideous can ever possibly... be real.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Peter's Flight of Dragons fantasy role-playing game reflects the Dungeons & Dragons boom of the early Eighties.
  • Doing In the Scientist: The motive behind Ommadon's actions is to deny science in favor of magic.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Peter's specialty, and the whole reason he was chosen to lead the quest.
  • Doomy Dooms of Doom: Invoked by Ommadon, along with a Title Drop, when sending Bryagh forth to battle the heroes.
  • The Dragon: Bryagh, who is a literal dragon as well.
  • Dragon Hoard: Dragons sleep on hoards because gold is soft and will not catch fire.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Sir Orrin does one to Danielle (who's already dead) after slaying Bryagh.
  • Eat Dirt, Cheap: As Smrgl shows Peter, dragons eat limestone and will swallow gemstones to help digest them, much like birds eat grit to grind their food. Said limestone produces the gasses necessary for them to fly and breathe fire.
  • Ethnic Magician: The four brothers are oddly diverse. Carolinus is your typical white Merlin-type of wizard, Solarius is an Ambiguously Brown man whose garb suggests Arabia, Lo Tae Shao is Asian (and even has an Asian dragon). Ommadon...well, he's sort of a chalky blue...and hobgoblin-ish.
  • Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: The closed captioning regularly confuses a dragon's hoard for a dragon's horn.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Princess Melisande.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Or rather, evil cannot comprehend science welded for good. Ommadon gets his ass royally handed to him when he and Peter confront each other in the final showdown.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Ommadon.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Ommadon.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Evil Sounds Like James Earl Jones. But we already knew that.
  • The Fair Folk: Giles is an elf, but you'd hardly know it from his appearance and abilities; Ommadon also tries to beckon various monstrous fantasy creatures at the climax. The usual small, pretty, beneficial fairy types are depicted early on, though.
  • Famous Ancestor: Peter is said by Antiquity to be the 777th descendant of Great Peter, who taught dragons to speak.
  • Fantastic Nature Reserve: Where all of the magic and magic creatures will go to in order to avoid destruction as man increasingly favors logic over magic.
  • Fantastic Nuke: Ommadon explaining how his magic's influence on man naturally leads to the creation of the bomb.
  • Forced Sleep: The flute that Lo Tae Shao gives to the party has the power to put even the fiercest dragon to sleep, and near the end it's used to disable the entire flight of dragons that Ommadon sends against them. All except Bryagh, that is, and since it put Peter to sleep as well, he descends virtually unopposed.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: At Hell's Way Inn (itself a GCPTR incident), as the humans are about to turn in, Danielle mentions that they may not live to see another night. Cue her and Sir Orrin walking out hand-in-hand, and it's never shown whether they were taken from different rooms of the Inn.
  • A God Am I: Ommadon has a fairly spectacular rant on this topic upon going One-Winged Angel. Peter has none of it.
    Ommadon: I am the world, and the world... is Ommadon. I can do anything. Test me. Ask me to reach up and pluck down the Sun... what magic but mine, could move the Sun?
  • Hand Wave:
    • Melisande's recovery from her strange pseudo-coma. Carolinus believes it to have been Ommadon's crown which revived her, having been brought to her by Peter after the battle, adding that her revival was foretold by prophecy. Not only was that prophecy never before mentioned, but if he knew that was the case, why was he so upset when she first went into the coma?
    • Practically everything about Melisande was hand-waved. Who were her parents, who were murdered when she was a child? She's apparently a princess, so how did Carolinus end up as her guardian? Where exactly is the kingdom she's a princess of, and who is running it?
  • Here There Were Dragons
  • Hero Killer: Bryagh.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Both played straight and averted. There are two heroes, and one ends up with the redhead, and the other gets the blonde, though technically, the redhead herself could count as a hero.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Smrgol.
  • Honor Before Reason: Sir Orrin is adamant about following the laws of chivalry, particularly during his first encounter with Bryagh where he notes it seemed a shame to die over an egg, but he'd already made the challenge.
  • I Fell for Hours: "Actually, it's been more like ten centuries!"
  • Improbable Hairstyle: Melisande's long blonde hair is beautiful...except for the part where it looks like she's wearing gigantic seashells on either side of her head.
  • Jerk Ass: A group of commoners that laughed at Carolinus when his magic appears to be weaker.
  • Killed Off for Real: Out of the major characters, Smrgol, Bryagh, and Ommadon end up biting the dust. Almost all the heroes taste death at one point or another, but they're revived at the end of the movie.
  • Kill 'em All: Bryagh slays Aragh, Giles and Danielle, and then Mutual Kills Sir Orrin, leaving Peter alone with Ommadon for the final confrontation. Of course, Death Is Cheap, and they're resurrected when the Magic Realm comes into being.
  • Knight Errant: Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe.
  • Leave Him to Me: A heroic variant. When the group prepares to confront the dragons, Sir Orrin states: "Let me take Bryagh." Of course this is ignored when Bryagh actually arrives, but Sir Orrin was the only one who stood a chance anyway.
  • Like Brother and Sister: An inter-species version. Melisande, at one point in the film, addresses Gorbash as "brother," presumably because (as Orrin's narration later indicates) they grew up together in the care of Carolinus.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The main character has the same name as the author of the original book and, for good measure, he mentions in the film that he's writing a book called The Flight of Dragons. As well, the diagram he draws on the stone to visualize how dragonfire works is found in the book.
  • Love at First Sight:
    • Peter and Melisande, more or less; their first meeting is pretty fraught with chemistry, and they later share a little interlude the night before he leaves on the quest. This is apparently enough to induce her to follow him into the real world at the end.
    • On a more squicky level, Sir Orrin decided to marry Melisande on their first meeting...when she was five. Fortunately, this turned out to be more of a case of the knight deciding that he was supposed to marry the princess when she grew up, rather than one of genuine attraction, and he pretty much forgot the entire idea once he met Danielle.
  • Made of Shiny: The Silver Owls of the Full Moon; the silver acorn Antiquity gives Carolinus. Antiquity itself, arguably.
  • Mage Tower: Each magician lives in one which reflects his elements and personality, except Carolinus, who lives in a humble (but spacey) farm cottage which is fitting as his status as the wizard of the green earth, he should live on a farm rather than in a tower as this keeps him closer to his element.
  • The Magic Goes Away: To the "Last Realm of Magic."
  • Magic Misfire: Carolinus has been doing this more and more often lately, and it's what causes Gorbash and Peter to merge.
  • Magic Versus Science: The worlds of science and magic are separate dimensions struggling for dominance, although Carolinus admits that science will ultimately win in the end.
  • Meaningful Name: Sir Orrin explains to Peter that he named the baby dragon Gorbash after the circumstances of his hatching — Orrin had fought with Ommadon's dragon, and it was gory, and he did get bashed up a bit.
  • Mordor: Ommadon's kingdom.
  • Mutual Kill: Bryagh and Sir Orrin.
  • Never Say "Die": Averted, kicked in the head, set on fire and fed to a dragon. The movie is startlingly violent in places and many characters die (although some come back at the end).
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: When Ommadon causes Carolinus to lose the ability to track the quest through one magical means, the image of his brother Lo Tae Shao appears and reminds him that Melisande has the previously unmentioned ability to do the exact same thing by entering a trance.
  • Not Quite Dead: Averted with Aragh. He DID die drowning, but was revived by Solarius, in exchange for killing the Sandmurk queen and joining the quest.
  • Obi-Wan Moment: An obvious consequence of the above.
  • Obviously Evil: Ommadon. While the other four wizards are sagely older men (of various racial backgrounds), Ommadon is a gaunt, hunched, goblin-like creature with yellow eyes, tusks, and even a horn on his nose, to say nothing of his billowing red robes.
  • Off Model: There are minor animation flaws throughout — e.g. the dragon-rose, described by Peter/Gorbash as "that small golden flower," is quite clearly deep pink.
  • Oh Crap!: The look on Carolinus's face when he realizes that not ALL of the dragons were put to sleep. Ommaddon's dragon Bryagh is still active.
  • One-Winged Angel: Ommadon does this for the final confrontation and it ain't pretty.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Sir Orrin, who clearly has never been any closer to England than Liverpool — East Liverpool, Ohio, that is.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragon biology is discussed rather in depth, including their need to eat limestone to generate hydrogen gas, which enables them to fly and breathe fire, as well as their use of soft metal for bedding, as it will not catch fire. This is actually in reference to the Real Life book The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson. In it the author hypothesizes that dragons evolved from dinosaurs, survived extinction by pure luck, and evolved to fly and breathe fire using the aforementioned gas.
  • Our Elves Are Different
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: What Peter sadly ends up becoming to the world/realm of magic. To utterly destroy Ommadon, he must forsake and deny all magic. Yet somehow, he is able to interact with them, to Carolinus' amazement. Indicating part of Peter, even though he favors reality and logic, will always love and cherish his memories of magic and of dragons.
  • Parental Abandonment: Princess Melisande's parents were killed by "the night demons" when she was a small child, resulting in her being Happily Adopted by Carolinus. No explanation is ever offered for what became of the kingdom of which she is a princess.
  • Pinned to the Wall: Danielle's Establishing Character Moment against Giles' elves.
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: Each member of the group overcomes exactly one obstacle. Also, the shield and flute provided to the party by Solarius and Lo Tae Shao each fulfill exactly one function. (Well, the shield fulfills two if you count Peter selling it to the pawn shop guy at the end.) Between this, the Rule of Three entry (a magical quest can't begin without three members), and the beginning of the quest being dictated by Antiquity (itself a vague, intelligent force), it can be inferred that the world of magic is supposed to run like this.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Spoken by Peter in a final attack to a desperate Ommadon, who'd suffered massive wounds from Peter's using scientific facts to to destroy the dragon heads Ommadon was using.
    Peter: "Come algebra, anatomy, astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, geometry, mathematics, meteorology, mineralology, oceanography, paleontology, physics, psychology, sociology, trigonometry, and zoology!"
    • Particularly badass when you consider he recited all these in alphabetical order.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Peter is identified as the Chosen One to Carolinus because he somehow knows what the four magic brothers, Melisande and Gorbash looked like and made them into pieces for his board game.
  • Puff of Logic: Ommadon's death, shrinking and puffing away when confronted by Peter's logic.
  • Red Herring: As they are setting up camp for the night, the heroes are being spied upon by a huge, glowing-eyed wolf... Turns out said wolf is actually an old friend of Gorbash and Orrin, and he came to save them from the Sandmurks' maddening song.
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation
  • Rule of Three: When Carolinus first decides to inspire the quest to bring about his idealized magic realm, Lo Tae Shao reminds him that there must be three warriors at the start of a quest, because "the laws so command it."
  • Samus Is a Girl: Danielle the archer.
  • Science Destroys Magic: The central premise is a sort of Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors in which magical creatures can't exist in a world where science dominates, and civilizations based on science are destroyed by fear and superstition.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Why do humans prefer logic over magic? In the words of Lo Tae Zhao "[because] Logic is so... logical."
  • Sharing a Body: Peter and Gorbash.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Peter's confrontation with Ommadon is basically one big series of these... Scientifically-themed, of course.
  • Small Annoying Creature: The Sandmurks, ratlike animals whose screechy noises will literally drive the listener mad.
  • Sssssnake Talk: Smrgol. Thankfully, it's pretty mild. Odds are you won't notice it for a while.
  • Take Our Word for It: The Sandmurks' screeches are so horrible that they will drive any listener mad. The audience only hears a mild chittering sound.
  • Taking You with Me: Sir Orrin.
  • Talking in Your Sleep: Melisande, during her weird coma, tells Carolinus what's going on with the quest.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Peter defeats the villain by reciting formulae and listing scientific disciplines.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: After Bryagh sets Orrin on fire, Sir Orrin throws his sword through the flames, skewering Bryagh and setting him on fire.
  • Time Travel: Carolinus travels forward to recruit Peter, bringing him into the past. Melisande travels forward to join him in the ending.
  • Title Drop: Not counting the title of the book Peter wrote.
    Ommadon: Yes, Bryagh, it's your turn now! You and your legions, attack, demolish, devour, burn, grind them to dust! Go forth and death be thy destination! Doom! Doom! A Flight of Dragons! I COMMAND IT... A FLIGHT OF DRAGONS!!
  • Token Evil Teammate: Ommadon, the only Evil Sorcerer among the four wizards, which is lampshaded and discussed by Carolinus. Subverted in that while he held the position for apparently centuries, early in the movie he goes renegade and becomes the Big Bad.
  • Wife Husbandry: As mentioned, when Sir Orrin first met Melisande when she was five and he was a fully grown adult he decided he would marry her... he changed his mind pretty quickly when the (also fully grown adult) Danielle appeared.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: Peter towards the Magic Realm throughout the film. Ultimately subverted when, by denying magic, he sacrifices his only chance to remain there.
  • World-Healing Wave: After defeating Ommadon.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Sir Orrin's first encounter with Bryagh was when he found him eating an entire nest of ready-to-hatch dragon eggs. After he drove Bryagh off, the last surviving egg hatched - into Gorbash.
  • Wrong Guy First: Gender-inverted. Sir Orrin's love for Melisande and desire to marry her rather conveniently disappear once Danielle joins the party.
  • The X of Y
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Melisande gives up life in the Magic Realm to live in modern times with Peter.
  • You Killed My Father: Melisande accuses Carolinus of killing her parents during a moment of madness induced by the Sandmurks.