I think Hollywood should remake Flight of Dragons.
Bear with me here. I know the film industry is not currently hurting for remakes. Just about every film that comes out these days seems to be an adaptation of this, a remake of that or – worst of all – a reimagining or a reboot of an existing franchise.
Whether or not that’s a good thing, I’ll leave for a discussion for another time. Likewise will I leave for discussion whether or not that’s a new thing. I’ll just state that movies that are cornerstones of modern cinema – Ben-Hurr and Scarface – are both remakes. So let’s at the very least not pretend this a new or cataclysmic phenomena.
But what gets remade often has some remarkable familiarity. There’s always going to be a new Star Wars, a new Star Trek. Whether or not there will be a new Battlestar Galactica or Stargate is another matter. There’s almost certainly going to be more Lord of the Rings. Whether or not Game of Thrones returns is anyone’s guess.
In the realm of cartoons, it seems like only 80s cartoons and Disney classics get any remakes or reboots. Transformers will always be a year or two away from a new season in some form or another. Disney movies got rereleases, then sequels, and now live-action adaptations are all the rage (seemingly to varying degrees of quality). But there’s far more to it than those two genres. Despite common belief, cartoons have been around since before 1984 and they existed after 1987. Likewise, Disney wasn’t the only studio producing feature-length cartoons.
Rankin & Bass Studios is a franchise that often gets overlooked in the annals of American animation history. Probably most famous for their 1980s cartoon series Thundercats, they were also responsible for many beloved holiday stop-motion movies like Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Holiday movies aside, however, Rankin & Bass had actually been very prolific throughout the 1970s.
In 1977, they produced the first adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, following it up in 1980 with their highly-underrated adaptation of the Return of the King (Ralph Bakshi would handle the Lord of the Rings proper, to exceptionally dynamic reactions). These would pave the way for their most ambitious projects, though not their most successful.
In 1982, Rankin & Bass released the Last Unicorn in theaters. The film is fondly remembered by many, though often recalled hazily between recollections of Legend, Flight of the Navigator, and the Dark Crystal. The thing is, Last Unicorn had a sibling. Released direct-to-video early in the days of VHS, Rankin & Bass released Flight of Dragons. Based very loosely on ‘The Dragon and the George’ by Gordon Dickson, it follows the tale of Peter Dickinson who is a fantasy nerd by disposition but a scientist by training. He is summoned to a fantasy world to try to save it from an evil wizard, but must ultimately make some harsh and scarring sacrifices to win the day.
Flight of Dragons isn’t the most breath-taking animation the early 1980s had to offer, but it does genuinely have some of the better voice acting (at least in places). It’s music is surprisingly dynamic (a lot of 80s animation scores are highly underrated). The story is excellent, especially in striking the chord of being approachable by children but not in a way that talks down to them. It pulls no punches on matters like death and corruption.
In much the same way that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle rebooted an adequate but ultimately forgettable family movie from the 1990s, Flight of Dragons is fertile ground for a similar reimagining. Ours is a world that could use more inspiration and fantasy, one that could confront the ugliness of life not with dangerously false make-believe or turn-a-blind-eye-wish-fulfillment, but with a direct honesty about the importance of dreams.
Flight of Dragons introduced many kids to the idea of fantasy not being all its cracked up to be, struggling to live up with the ugly side of adventure, but also with the burden of rising to the challenge. It also sings to the importance of all people, that those called to action are often made capable, and not that those who are capable are always those who are called.
Plus, Flight of Dragons has neat wizards and dragons and knights and monsters and some of the most kickass monologues this side of Shakespeare. Yes, really.
I’m not saying it’s a guaranteed hit. I’m not saying it’s a sleeper success that could transform the artistic landscape. I’m just saying, between yet another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, another Transformers series, two different Star Wars TV shows, a new Twilight novel, and who knows how many more superhero movies, there’s room in somebody’s budget to throw some pocket money at the holders of the Flight of Dragons IP and say ‘hey, what can you do with this?’. Because I bet it would sail past reality.