The old fellow might be a dragon, but he is also the original jaws of life—and the wings too. Although it took him a while to sharpen his dragoning skills in his first Magic Light Pictures-produced BBC special, he has since found his purpose shuttling Princess Pearl and Sir Gadabout as they tend to the medical needs of the animals and fantastical beasts of the kingdom. Unfortunately, the King has more traditional notions of nobility in Sean Mullins’ Zog and the Flying Doctors, the latest Julia Donaldson animated adaptation, which screens as part of the Magic Light Celebration at this year’s New York International Children’s Film Festival.
Dr. Princess Pearl’s ideas of royal duty are a lot like those of Queen Elizabeth II, who drove ambulances as a young woman during WWII. She can cure lions with the flu and sunburned mermaids. Sir Gadabout is a bit of a tool, but he can help a unicorn with an extra horn. The fastidious knight and the clumsy but kind-hearted dragon often clash, but they will have to work together when Princess Pearl’s uncle, the King, locks her in the palace and forces her to do Princessy things.
All of the Magic Light-BBC adaptations of Donaldson’s children’s books are charming, incorporating nice furry animals and big-name celebrity voices (the most notable in this case are narrator Sir Lenny Henry and Rob “The Trip” Brydon as the King). Princess Pearl is even more the kind of animated role model parents can get behind this time around, while Zog is still just a big sweet, likable lug.
Zog & the Docs give archetypal fairy tale tropes a twist that should amuse fans, like the dragon trying to save the princess. The animation is colorful and lively, which the voices (particularly Patsy Ferran reprising her role as Dr. Princess Pearl) nicely match. It is also good to see the BBC and Magic Light continuing the tradition of animated TV specials some of us grew up with (from likes of the Peanuts franchise, Hanna Barbera, and Rankin-Bass). Highly recommended for family viewing, Zog and the Flying Doctors screens online through next Sunday (3/14), as part of the NYICFF’s Magic Light showcase.