Dragonslayer

1981

Dragonslayer

Critics Consensus

An atypically dark Disney adventure, Dragonslayer puts a realistic spin -- and some impressive special effects -- on a familiar tale.

87%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 30

62%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 24,431
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Movie Info

When Princess Elspeth (Chloe Salaman) is scheduled to be the next sacrificial virgin to a deadly dragon, it is up to an aged wizard, Ulrich (Ralph Richardson) and his young, headstrong apprentice, Galen (Peter MacNicol), to defeat the serpent and save the beautiful princess.

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Critic Reviews for Dragonslayer

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (26) | Rotten (4)

  • This movie has two big things going for it -- the dragon and the man who masterminds its slaying.

    Nov 16, 2014 | Full Review…
  • The film excels as a visual exercise, as a study in adolescent psychology, and even as astute political analysis.

    Nov 26, 2012 | Full Review…
  • A well intentioned fantasy with some wonderful special effects, Dragonslayer falls somewhat short on continuously intriguing adventure.

    Mar 26, 2009 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • Verges on the nasty for the nippers; sails close to déjà vu for fantasy fans; fated, probably, to damnation by faint praise.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…

    Paul Taylor

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • The scenes involving the dragon are first-rate. The beast is one of the meanest, ugliest, most reprehensible creatures I've ever seen in a film, and when it breathes flames it looks like it's really breathing flames.

    Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Mr. Robbins's overall accomplishment is one of creating a mood, and he does this well enough to make up for the film's occasional cumbersomeness.

    Aug 30, 2004

Audience Reviews for Dragonslayer

  • Sep 22, 2019
    People mostly remember how dark this thing is, and while that's certainly true the movie is also much smarter than a lot of fantasy from this era. There's wizards and magic and a dragon but there's also subtle commentary. No wonder George RR Martin is so fond of this movie.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • May 07, 2014
    Dragonslayer is an interesting film in Disney ridiculously large catalogue of family films. For starter, it's a more realistic take on a typical fantasy story, contains partial nudity, some blood and gore, and no memorable characters. It says something when the best remember element of the film is a special effect that isn't on screen for much of it duration leaving a bigger impact than anything else with longer exposure. It has some intelligent ideas and semi-subvert dark take on an overuse formula, but it's characters and actors hold it back from greatness. Dragonslayer is about a young wizard apprentice sent to kill a dragon which has been devouring girls from a nearby kingdom. Now the way the film is set up is also it biggest downfall. It build up is done right in sparingly showing the dragon and creating its image as this big menace that is seemingly invincible. Giving the world a true sense of danger as the dragon unprecedented timing of attack raises fear. Leading to characters to pursue any option possible from a gaining helping from a bumbling sorcerer's apprentice to a so call..."Virgin Lottery" (brought to you by Disney) to sacrifice to the dragon. Seeing the influence the dragon has over the kingdom holds your attention and so does the dragon when he appears on screen. While also doing away with some narrative points in its genre that prevents it from being part of the norm. Maintaining it's overall dark tone with deaths being prevalent throughout even for major characters you expect to survive. It characters bog down some of it more complicated religious and politics subjects. As mention earlier the "Virgin Lottery" (brought to you by Disney) is challenged making a statement against Authoritarian. This plot point correlates some religious ideals. It's not the inherent quality of the belief (or tool, or skill, or invention) that determines whether it's good or bad, it's how it is used. Then there are the human characters that are a mixture of cheeky comedy, satire, and seriousness minus a balance. Much like the actors that play them, they aren't compelling as if their performances were meant for different films. Peter MacNicol is not a capable, commanding presence. He is barely more masculine than the female lead and probably a few octaves higher. MacNicol looks and acts exactly like his character should even if he is the star of the film he always fits with the cast without standing out. However, he fails to make the hero compelling with his clumsy transition between comedy and drama. Ralph Richardson performance is artificial with his limited screen time. Richardson dies in two scenes in the film coming across as an old man bad role play of a cheesy fantasy board game. Caitlin Clarke is fair playing against gender type with her character. She's able to conceal an important trait of her character physically and verbally, but once that trait is revealed she plays naturally in a routine love interest going through the rocky, a dragon is trying to kill me motion. John Hallam plays the obligatory rival with no redeeming value. Whenever he's on screen he has one mindset; I'm angry. Peter Eyre is both hilarious and pathetic, as a king who can think of nothing more forceful than bleat. Chloe Salaman is okay as the film progresses so does her performance improves with material that gives her character some emotional turmoil to showcase. As a whole the acting is fair, but limited by the material giving the actors a hard time when deciding to switch direction. Matthew Robbins textures his film with muted brooding colors for the coarse-flavored peasant environment to the more brightly-colored dragon sequences. Effects-wise the film sometimes shows it age in some poor blue-screen rendering, especially in the big climactic action scene. The dragon is a mix of richly detailed animatronics and stop-motion animation, to produced a monster that shown realistically in close-ups, yet could be given motion in a wider shot with little difficulty. And though there are moments when the inevitable choppiness of stop-motion work shows on the whole it still looks menacing. Probably the best marriage of old and new might be to use digital techniques to erase the telltale signs of a stop-motion or other type of puppet, allowing the tiny model to move as fluidly as a "real" creature. A minor but vital character to the film's design is fire, and there are several distinct colour schemes - the blazing amber-redness of the dragon's breath, the swirling green that signals the rebirth of sorcerer Ulrich, and the bluish-amber in the pools of intense heat which pepper the dragon's cavernous lair. As for the confrontation between human is dragon is realistic as the hero has a difficult time even holding his own against the dragon with good weapons. Dragonslayer is darker than most of Disney live action films, but also missing are some compelling leads that made some of their classics widely remembered. It subvert from the norm of Disney with it dark themes and a more gritty take on fantasy that doesn't pander (much) to what viewer expects. While none of the actors or characters ever share the glory as the special effect driven dragon it has other elements worth getting into.
    Caesar M Super Reviewer
  • Feb 27, 2014
    Yep back in 1981 Disney were in cahoots with Paramount and the result was this quite dark film. I mean how much more badass could this idea be?! a sorcerers apprentice must come to grips with his powers, learn his trade and save the land from a 400 year old dragon whilst trying to fend off a pesky knight of the realm. Basically its just an excuse for some dragon battling in a time honoured Tolkien way. I haven't seen this film since I was a little kiddie, long before the days of knowing what 'The Lord of the Rings' was anyway. First impressions are how Tolkien-like the visuals actually are. It was all filmed in the wilderness of Wales and the Isle of Skye and it really looks tremendous. The sweeping lush valleys, the green woodlands, the rocky mountainous dragons lair, wide misty lakes and typically traditional old fashioned dank medieval castles. It all looks so damn good visually it doesn't actually look like Wales or the Isle of Skye, it looks too nice!. Some sequences could of been cut out of Ridley Scotts 'Legend', it has that fairy fantasy vibe at times, you half expect some Elves or Dwarf warriors to turn up. Admittedly for a kick ass title like this the film takes it time in delivering some dragon slaying. Most of the time we see the rather odd choice of hero in Peter MacNicol arguing with the King, arguing with the Kings main knight who wears a silly helmet, looking perplexed, attempting magic, getting locked up and finding out that a young boy is actually a young woman. How in the hell he couldn't see this I don't know. The plot about the King holding a lottery that chooses young girls to be sacrificed to the dragon to appease it is pure fairytale stuff (this is why that one woman disguises herself as a bloke). The Princess finds out her father the King has rigged it so she never gets chosen, so she bravely opts to get sacrificed. Somehow the King can't stop this decision even though he's King so its up to MacNicol to save her. Really the whole crux of the film is the last half where MacNicol must fight the dragon with his big dragon slaying spear, his magic shiny ring which he got from his sorcerer Master and dragon scale shield. Its the effects that make this film stand up and get counted, for the time the effects were mind blowing and they ain't half bad now. A classical mix of stop motion, puppets, large scale puppets, bluescreen and some matte paintings bring the dragon to life. I can't deny the visuals do get a bit creaky as the film progresses through to the big confrontation. Bluescreen becomes very obvious, especially against the stop motion dragon, the flying sequences are a bit iffy looking and the stop motion isn't quite as good as I remembered. Its the puppets and large scale dragon heads that take your breathe away, some really nice detail and great fire breathing effects...even if the dragon design is a bit standard and unadventurous. The other thing that hit me was the level of shock factor in this film. We do see poor old Ian McDiarmid get incinerated up close, we do see the Princess get half eaten by baby dragon puppets, one has its mouthful with her foot!, there is a haunting sequence where a young girl gets torched alive (you hear her screams) and we do see someone getting run through with a spear. In short there is a reasonable amount of blood on show here! I was surprised. Its quite a slow film with a lot of character building which is a tad dull but it works. The whole plot to kill the dragon does seem pretty convoluted really, they're messing around with magic rings, spells, resurrection blah blah blah when all you wanna see is MacNicol hack at the dragon with a large sharp weapon. End of the day they kill it with a remotely detonated old sorcerer via the magic ring it seems, kinda made me think why we had to go through everything just to do that. But I guess the old sorcerer had to die to come back as a magical explosive old sorcerer resurrected from the dragons fiery underground lake...whatever. The film appears to be your bog standard fantasy film where the hero must save the Princess from the dragon, but it isn't, the Princess gets eaten!. The plot also feels a bit heavy at times, a bit bloated with magic when really you just wanna see a bit more kickassery, I guess in this day and age a remake would give you that for sure. I can't moan about the plot as it is well done and offers more than just hack n slash, the characters are all pretty good really which isn't expected. This is a fantasy so you half expect high levels of flaming grilled cheese but no, everyone plays it straight and it works well, I especially liked the portrayal and look of 'King Casiodorus'. So no this isn't entirely a silly childish fairytale story, far from it. The visuals may trick you into thinking this at times but its quite a bleak film mostly. For me I just wanted to watch it again for the dragon sequences, there I said it, I'm sure most would be the same truth be told. In that sense the film doesn't disappoint, despite its age the film offers some great draconem action, and yes I did feel sorry for the dragon when its babies got slain by the hero pfft! screw you hero!.
    Phil H Super Reviewer
  • May 29, 2011
    Phil Tippett's dragon is great, Peter MacNicol completely sucks wizard wiener, get any halfway decent actor in the role and they would've had an '80s fantasy mini-classic. Also appearing is The Emperor himself Ian McDiarmid!
    Doctor S Super Reviewer

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