The only fantasy movie you have to watch before it leaves Netflix this week
Here’s a very 2020 way to describe a 1996 fantasy movie: Imagine if Kylo Ren became Donald Trump. That’s not the central plot, but it’s what sets off an hour and 40 minutes of ridiculous fun that includes Sean Connery voicing a singing dragon.
Dragon heart is not Game Of Thrones (which may be better). But as a witty fantasy film with a prolific cast and a storyline bursting with personality, Dragon heart is an incredibly watchable adaptation of Renn Faire from Dirty rotten rascals. It’s charming and sweet, and while it rocks too much between disparate themes and tones – sometimes it’s a class revolution image, other times it’s a wacky comedy with a dragon – Dragon heart is a competent comfort watch on Netflix. And that’s why you need to watch it on Netflix before it leaves on June 12.
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The plot is heavy and difficult to describe, but here is my essay: Dragon heart is the story of a dragon hunter for hire, Bowen (Dennis Quaid), once a noble knight and mentor to King Einon’s son (David Thewlis). When a peasant uprising results in the death of the King and Einon is injured, Bowen and Einon’s mother, Queen Aislinn (Julie Christie) strike a deal with a dragon Draco (voiced by Sean Connery) to heal Einon.
Although Einon has sworn to be fair and equitable, he turns his back on the oath. Heartbroken, Bowen leaves his chivalry and stalks the dragons. When Bowen finds Draco, they agree to scam villages for gold, until a peasant from Einon’s past, Kara (Dina Meyer) convinces Bowen to usurp Einon from his reign.
There is a lot to love in Dragon heart. The storyline, the characters and Draco himself are worth the time spent. Dragon heart is practically a comedy that subverts tropes but never feels satirical at all. It’s never a joke, like a Mel Brooks movie. He takes his world-building rules seriously and commits to his original ideas – the “Old Code” is a concept fully realized by the end of the first act – which in turn gives Sean’s Draco leeway. Connery to act like a goofball.
Draco is truly the heart of Dragon heart, voluntary pun. Its CGI has not aged too much well, although that is an impressive job for 1996. (The legendary Industrial Light & Magic was involved, and the work broke new ground on jurassic park a few years earlier contributed to Dragon heartvisual endurance.) But coupled with Connery’s sophisticated pipes, Draco is a breath of new life for movie dragons despite being over 20 years old.
In a change of most Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, Draco is not a mysterious and frightening entity. He’s not the final boss, he’s just a dragon, annoyed by humanity’s insistence on hunting down his fellow human beings and resentful that he’s the last. All he wants is to be left alone, but his budding friendship with a knight errant becomes his own reward.
It is through Draco and Bowen that Dragon heart is an unlikely buddy comedy. There could have been an entire movie about that concept alone, and it was indeed the original concept of screenwriter Patrick Read Johnson. “Dragon heart was an idea I had had for years, ”Johnson said IGN in an interview in 2012.
“I knew what the premise was about the Last Dragon and the Last Knight eventually getting stuck and making a deal. It was sort of the first scene I thought of – the knight in the mouth of the dragon with his sword against the I knew they would come to the conclusion that they only had one way to continue to survive by staging these mock battles throughout the campaign and getting paid in heaps of gold.
But in a way that’s both good and bad, Dragon heart is more than Draco and Bowen. The film awkwardly adds a class uprising story with Einon, while Kara’s revenge seems stuck to the script. Queen Aislinn also appears to be a character with much more importance who has been chipped and edited throughout the following drafts.
Unfortunately, there are skeletons associated with Dragon heart you have to reckon with. For starters, the film was all Patrick Read Johnson’s ideas, but typical Hollywood studio politics essentially forced him to quit his own film. That the studio relied instead on Rob Cohen, who has been accused by his trans daughter of sexual assault, is woefully unhappy. And then there’s Sean Connery and his own story of abuse that tears Draco apart.
No movie made in Hollywood is totally clean, it’s just weird how those involved in Dragon heart darken a carefree film about dragons. Still, what Sean Connery is charming as a fire-breathing monster is a sight to behold, even if this show is a bit ugly.
Dragon heart is now streaming on Netflix through Friday, June 12.