Flight Of Dragons (Animated feature, Rankin Bass 1982)
What its about:
As the age of magic draws gives way to the age of reason, the four Wizard brothers who are the guardians of the realm of enchantment meet to discuss what to do. Carolinus the Green Wizard (whose domain is nature) argues that if man is to chose logic and reason over magic then the brothers should gather their magic together to create a haven for themselves and all the enchanted creatures in another world, away from the ravages of logic, in a place where they can live on in our imagination to inspire us. The magic brothers agree to the plan, except for Ommadon The Red, the wizard of darkness and destruction who wishes to use the imagination of mankind and his darkest impulses to drive him towards self destruction, leaving the world free from logic for magic to rule again. So begins a quest to the dark depths of Ommadon’s realm to secure his red crown of power and make sure that his plans don’t come to pass.
Why its Good:
Well, to begin with, for 1980s Rankin Bass the art and animation is unusually good. The art work on the dragons in particular is wonderfully detailed, showing the film’s origins in a book of illustrations of dragons. The story is good, the plotting is tight and the quest feels suitably epic. The voice acting is also brilliant, with James Earl Jones in particular shining as the dark wizard Ommadon with his deep baritone vocals, possibly projecting even more menace than he did as the voice of Darth Vader. It has many moments of escapism and wonder and a good couple of really dark scenes, Ommadons speech to the wizards council and the Ogre of Gormley Keep’s attack on the Inn both stand out and definitely left a deep impression on me at least.
What the Young ’Uns will hopefully take from it:
One of the basic truths of the world that many people, indeed most adults I know, have trouble getting to grips with is the dialectic between reason and cold hard logic on the one hand, and the imaginative / intuitive / creative mode of thinking on the other. This “left brain / right brain” divide (actually this has no basis in real physiological terms, but I like it because it’s a handy short hand for describing the relationship between the two) should be central to our way of understanding the world and the mental processes that shape us and it is precisely this that the film tackles as its main thematic material. In the story Carolinus (who wanted to separate the two spheres) is told by the tree of knowledge to call on a person from our time (who shares a name with the author of the book the film was based on). He is told to do this because in order to defeat Ommadon, who represents acquisitive self interest and nihilistic cynicism, you need someone with a foot in both worlds who can thereby bridge the gap between the two. This is a very profound lesson to impart to anyone, especially the young but including the most hardened activists. Gramsci talked about the mentality of a good Marxist revolutionary as “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”, and surely that’s more or less the same message? It’s a good lesson and in this instance it is charmingly conveyed in a film that is enjoyable to adults and children.