In the past couple of weeks I’ve discussed dragons in two types of films: live-action and animated (sometimes a combination of both!). But dragons grace the small screen as well. Maybe it’s not as often, but their influence has radiated out to reach us in our homes in perhaps some of the strangest of television shows.
Whether you like your dragons cartoony, intelligent, ferocious, or subtly decorative as set pieces, then I’m sure you’ll find something of interest in today’s post! Curiously, it would seem the nature of the medium lends itself more readily to television shows aimed at children. How does this affect the nature of these majestic beasts? Let’s find out.
DRAGONS ON TELEVISION
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS (1983)
When I asked around for nominations in this category from friends, this television show came up. Of course, I’m going to be honest here and say I’ve never watched an episode, much less heard of it until a few years ago (being born the year after it aired is no excuse in the Era of the Internet). I’m not quite ready to give up my nerd license just yet, though! As you can see, these dragons are a bit on the scary side and spew an assortment of nasty effluvia meant to disarm or debilitate: ice, fire, magical sparkly beams. I wouldn’t want to mess with them, would you? Unless you know a wizard who can use Magic Missile or something…
DRAGON’S LAIR (1984)
I came upon this show completely by accident when looking up something else on YouTube. It looks about as entertaining as any cartoon from the ’80s was (we did so love our Fantasy and anthropomorphizing of animals): there’s a knight, a princess, and this mean dragon that traps her in some egg shaped crystal ball thing… I wish I remember watching this show (I’m told I did), but from what I saw: this dragon breathes fire and is one nasty fellow. The kooky nature of the human characters adds levity to his scariness, though.
DRAGON BALL (1986)
If you’re familiar with this show, you know the dragon is only incidentally important (despite Goku riding shotgun here). It’s the dragon balls (ahem, no relation to dragon anatomy) that are important. Once all seven are collected, Goku will get whatever wish he desires. There’s also the spin-off, “Dragon Ball Z” has a dragon and well, I can’t remember if either of them breathes fire. But they look pretty in the opening credits.
DRAGON TALES (1999)
This is a show specifically made for PBS Kids. Two children find a dragon scale that (I think) enables them to talk to dragons: hjinks ensue. Since it’s for PBS, I’m sure it’s educational as well as entertaining. I think by now we know the nature of a dragon just by looking at it. The big wide eyes and sparse assortment of blunt teeth sure don’t scare me. Not to mention it looks like they’re dancing here. I could never imagine Smaug dancing. Not having watched the show, I can’t say for sure, but I think it’s a safe bet these very colorful dragons do not breathe fire.
JANE AND THE DRAGON (2005)
I love this show. It only had one season in Canada, but the episodes that are available on syndication are adorable. Jane is supposed to be a lady in waiting but decides she wants to be a knight instead. To break with convention yet again, she befriends the local dragon known simply as “Dragon” instead of fighting him out of duty and honor. It’s set in some vaguely medieval England with an endearing cast of characters that do fall to stereotype and a bit of caricaturing, but Dragon’s relationship to Jane is the main part of the show. He has the best of intentions, even if his fire breathing (good natured, always) tends to burn crops more often than the king would like. He definitely would not hurt a fly.
A live-action television show with a dragon? How strange and fortuitous! I’m absolutely in love and over the moon for this UK show only very recently brought to the US. Voiced by John Hurt (that’s Ollivander for you Harry Potter movie fans), this dragon (known as “The Great Dragon”) is the last of his kind. Out of all of these dragons on television, he seems to be the only one that embodies the very idea of magic itself. He’s powerful and wicked, cruelly denying Merlin the information he needs without wheedling some kind of bargain. And why should he? The rest of his kind have been killed off and he’s been captured and chained with the most powerful of spells—a prisoner underneath Camelot. He’s pissed. He’s resentful. He also doesn’t see why he should do much to help Merlin, although he does, countless times. He has the foresight of ages, untold amounts of wisdom and terrifyingly does breathe fire. He’s a valuable resource, especially for a young warlock in the making, but Merlin would do better not to place all of his trust in such a bitter and angry creature.
It would seem disproportionate that so many of the television shows that have dragons are cartoons and as such, are intended for young audiences. Doesn’t the older crowd want dragons, too? Why are so many films and televisions shows featuring dragons aimed specifically at children and families? Is it something to do with the fantastical and extraordinary nature of these beasts? Is it true that there’s little appeal to teens or adults in creatures entirely dependent on a suspension of ordinary believe and a high imagination? Next week we’ll examine a medium that performs quite contrary to this line of thought and looks at the notion that dragons are not just for children.
What other television shows can you think of that feature dragons? What are some of your favorites?
Next week: DRAGONS! Part 4: Dragons in Books