Director: Ted Nicolaou
Screenwriters: Suzanne Glazener Naha, Ted Nicolaou
Starring: Sam Mackenzie, Courtland Mead, Janet Henfrey
You know how the best part of The Phantom Menace is the trade negotiations? Well, if you agree with that, you’ll love 1994’s Dragonworld, a direct-to-video kid’s release that is equal parts fantasy and anti-capitalist political thriller.
The film follows Johnny McGowan, an American lad whose parents were killed by a drunk driver. Young Johnny moves to Scotland to live with his loud, homophobic grandfather who embodies every Scottish stereotype I’m aware of. While playing the bagpipes, Johnny summons a dragon from the mist… a dragon that looks like a plucked turkey.
Surely the adventures of a boy and his dragon, each young and eager to grow in a new environment with a new pal, would be somewhat compelling? It sounds relatable to kids everywhere!
Dragonworld takes place in a giant castle, and we learn that grandpa is in debt because he’s not paying his taxes. Then, about twenty minutes in, fifteen years pass off-screen. The grandpa dies, the kid becomes a young adult, and the dragon has grown to be a much larger turkey/dragon hybrid. Here, taxes become a significant plot point. And all without one significant adventure.
Out of nowhere, a TV producer arrives with a camera and begins filming on the castle grounds. After showing the footage to a businessman, the two conspire to leverage the protagonist’s debt to get ahold of his dragon for an amusement park. They sign a contract, the dragon is tranquilized and subsequently transported to the park. It’s kept there until the final act.
Fortunately, Dragonworld is incredibly entertaining because it’s so stupid.
An undoubted gem of the “so bad it’s good” moments occurs when the TV guy shows the businessman the tape with the dragon. The tape shows this hilariously fake animatronic puppet thing, and the businessman drops his jaw in utter shock. He expresses no skepticism, and completely believes this guy got video of a real dragon. It’s one of the best unintentionally funny moments ever put to screen.
Another of the more enjoyable aspects of the picture is the romance.
The TV guy has a daughter for the protagonist to have a shallow romance with. They have a scene where they’re supposed to be bonding that is particularly silly. She’s listening to her walkman, and the audience can hear no sound other than the audio hiss. It cuts to him, and he’s in a doorway staring at her. This continues for a good minute before there is any dialogue. It isn’t romantic; it’s super creepy. Then, she lets him listen to the song, and we still don’t get to hear it. I know the filmmakers know how to make extradiegetic music happen, so why didn’t it here? Maybe they didn’t learn how until the end of the editing process; this scene already sent to be the studio. The maid, who I guess cleans the entire castle, falls in love with a helicopter pilot whom she speaks with twice about food. The way to a man’s heart truly is through his stomach, I guess.
If none of that has sold you, the ending ought to.
“I heard there’s a dispute over the owner of this dragon,” a random cop says, not adding, “this sketch is getting too silly, you’re all under arrest.” Yes, contract law is another key plot point in this kid’s movie. Thankfully, the dragon has disappeared into the mist that was conjured by the power of love or friendship or whatever (they don’t bother explaining any of the magic), so it now lives free (mostly), we’re left to presume.
Dragonworld has so much to offer, from the terrible acting to strange costume choices, but it’s best to experience it for yourself. Really, go and watch it for free on YouTube.