Here be dragons. Ten of them. Ten of the very best from children’s films and novels (and one video game… can you guess?). They range from fun-loving reptiles like Pete’s Dragon and Mulan’s Mushu, through to fearsome beasts such as Smaug and the Hungarian Horntail. But which one is the best?
10. Dragon from Shrek
Shrek’s dragon doesn’t have a name other than ‘Dragon’, much as the donkey is simply called ‘Donkey’ and the charming prince is named Prince Charming. But there’s nothing straightforward about the Shrek films. First impressions are often misleading. Dragon starts out as the fearsome, textbook example of a dragon, guarding the imprisoned Princess Fiona and barbecuing anyone who gets near. By the end of the film, she’s switched sides, helped to defeat the scheming Lord Farquaad, and fallen in love with Donkey. Although her character is never fully developed (hence our low ranking), there is no other dragon, in the whole of film and literature, who manages to start a family with a talking donkey. So, well done Dragon.
9. Mushu From Mulan
Every Disney Princess has to have at least one sidekick. It is a fairytale law. Mulan has two: a chirpy cricket called Cri-Kee, and a spindly Chinese dragon called Mushu. The latter is a disgraced guardian spirit, who gets a second chance to prove himself while protecting the runaway Fa-Mulan. His character is a little murky at first, cunning yet loyal, attention-seeking but heroic, but for all his quirks you can’t help but love this fast-talking creature. This most verbose of Disney sidekicks sounds an awful lot like Donkey from Shrek, and it’s no surprise to learn that Eddie Murphy voices both. Could Mushu be one of Donkey and Dragon’s children? The conspiracy theory starts here.
8. Zog From Zog
Perhaps the most ‘preschool’ dragon on our list, Zog is from the prolific pen and paint of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (best known for The Gruffalo). The titular dragon features in two books by the authors as well as their TV-film adaptations. He’s a friendly yet accident prone dragon whose only wish is to do well at dragon school. The sequel Zog and the Flying Doctors sees the dragon used as a flying ambulance for a medically minded princess and a knight. The gentle adventures are the perfect gateway into the dragon world for kids too young for the likes of Harry Potter.
7. Haku From Spirited Away
If you haven’t watched Spirited Away yet, then stop reading this and go correct your error. It’s one of the most inventive films ever made, and readily available on Netflix and other streaming services. Spirited Away tells the story of a young girl named Chihiro who finds her way into a disorientating bath house populated by spirit creatures. Her guide and protector is a boy named Haku who is later revealed to be a sleek white dragon… and then still later revealed to be a banished water spirit. See what I mean about disorientating? Haku is a much more complex figure than other dragons in this list - at times a tough fighter, at others maudlin and confused. He’s more of a shape-shifting spirit than a true dragon (hence the low ranking), but he is certainly dragon-hearted.
6. Pete’s Dragon (Elliot)
Disney have made two stabs at filming Pete’s Dragon. The first was a musical from 1977 with a goofy cartoon dragon, and the second was a 2016 movie featuring a CGI dragon (as well as unlikely big hitters such as Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard and Karl Urban). Neither could be considered among Disney’s A-list, yet both are very enjoyable kids’ movies. Titular Pete is orphaned in a car crash, and taken under the wing of a big-hearted dragon. Pete names his new friend Elliot after a favourite puppy character, though the name invites comparisons with E.T. - also about a young boy and his love for an otherworldly creature. In both versions, Elliot steals the show as a reliable, loveable dragon with a well-rounded character. Time for a third reboot from the dragon’s perspective, we think, called Elliot’s Human.
5. Falkor From The Neverending Story
Do kids still watch The Neverending Story? And given that the last sequel was in 1994, can we now conclude that the Neverending Story has, in fact, ended? Either way, we’re including Falkor in this list because he’s unlike any dragon you’ve ever seen. The friendly ‘luckdragon’ resembles an elongated dog who’s fallen into a barrel of cottage cheese. He also ranks highly in our list thanks to his winning personality. Falkor is not the kind of dragon who’ll go about burning the shires, subjugating the population and hoarding all their treasure (Smaug, we’re looking at you). He’s there to offer advice and hope to those in need. And you’re not going to get that ridiculously catchy theme tune out of your head for days now. Sorry.
4. The Hungarian Horntail From Harry Potter
Dragons are an integral part of the Harry Potter universe. Their heartstrings power wands; Draco Malfoy takes his name from the Latin for dragon; and Hagrid nurtures a baby dragon in the very first book/film. But it is the fourth installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which dragons really come to fore. For the first Triwizard Challenge, the quartet of school champions each have to face off against a fully grown dragon and steal its egg. Harry draws the most fearsome of them all: the Hungarian Horntail. This ebony reptile has a deadly reputation, with its crown of spines and red-hot flaming breath. Even Hagrid calls it a ‘nasty piece of work’. The horntail is no match for good old Harry, though.
3. Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon
How To Train Your Dragon is a franchise with teeth. The stories began as novels, written by British author Cressida Cowell. They’ve since been adapted into numerous films and spin-off TV series. Riding through the heart of it all is a teenage boy called Hiccup and his dragon Toothless. Despite their unpromising names, both show real mettle and heroism in defending their homeland. Toothless the Night Fury goes from being a much-feared menace to a beloved companion in this rip-roaring coming-of-age tale. As with Pete’s Dragon, the title suggests a master-owner relationship, but this is just as much about how the dragon changes (or trains) the human as the other way around. We’ve ranked Toothless so high for two reasons. He’s visually very memorable, with his flat, salamander-like head; but he’s also better fleshed out as a character than many dragons, thanks to his prominence in so many films and TV shows.
2. Spyro From Spyro Reignited Trilogy
We’d intended this list to feature only film and literature dragons, but plucky Spyro - hero of a series of video games - just couldn’t be left out. The character appeared in his first 3D platformer way back in 1998, and he’s still going strong thanks to a sensitive remake (Spyro Reignited Trilogy) a few years back. Players control Spyro across a number of fantasy realms in search of orbs, jewels and other dragons. The simple controls and plot line, coupled with colourful graphics, make this a perfect introduction to video gaming for the young player. We’ve ranked him so highly thanks to his impressive CV - taking on Gnorcs, ice hockey and skateboarding champ, defeating megalomaniac wizards and monsters, and giving old Moneybags a big kick up the butt.
1. Smaug from The Hobbit
Tolkein’s first great foray into Middle Earth is less weighty than the more celebrated Lord of the Rings trilogy, and was written with children in mind (though you wouldn’t know it from the recent films, which have PG-13 ratings). The tale revolves around the hobbit Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf companions, who set out on a perilous quest to defeat the dragon Smaug. The beast is no thoughtless, raging monster. He is cunning, well-spoken, manipulative and subtle - yet also immensely powerful and dangerous (Benedict Cumberbatch articulates him masterfully in the films). This combination of complexity and power make Smaug the most fearsome and best-realised dragon in children’s fiction. He crowns our list just as he sits atop a mountainous pile of treasure in the novel.
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