My Father’s Dragon, 2022.
Directed by Nora Twomey
FEaturing the voice talents of Jacob Tremblay, Gaten Matarazzo, Judy Greer, Ian McShane, Leighton Meester, Alan Cumming, Jackie Earle Hayley, Golshifteh Farahani, Dianne Wiest, Rita Moreno, Chris O’ Dowd, Adam Brody and Whoopi Goldberg.
Young Elmer Elevator (Jacob Tremblay) escapes the troubles of the real world and finds himself on an adventure where he must rescue a captive Dragon from the clutches of the inhabitants of the mysterious Wild Island.
Cartoon Saloon are responsible for some of the most beautifully transcendent experiences of the past decade. Stories steeped in folklore filtered through their picture-book come-to-life animation, such as The Secret of Kells, Wolfwalkers, and all-timer Song of the Sea, are tales that will be treasured and told until we ourselves are nothing but characters in someone’s recollections. That’s a roundabout way of saying that they’re brilliant.
The latest from the studio is a Netflix collaboration based on the 1948 children’s novel My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, which stretches their creativity to all four corners of the screen in an adventure which feels as though it has tapped straight into the imagination of every watching child, but somehow forgot about that unique magic which has been sprinkled throughout their previous efforts.
The story is essentially Where The Wild Things are, with our young hero running away from the hardships faced by his single parent family and ending up on an island inhabited by a menagerie of complex characters. It’s a world that you’re happy to visually feast upon as a roll call of wonderfully rendered creations crawl from this vibrant island.
Elmer’s interactions with these creatures calls to mind Kubo and the Two Strings, a comparison which does it no favours by-the-way, and while we get to spend fleeting moments with Judy Greer’s delightful Soda the Whale, Alan Cumming’s abstract Cornelius the Crocodile, or Ian McShane’s layered performance as an albino Gorilla, it’s the relationship between boy-and-dragon that’s the focus here.
Voiced by Stranger Things‘ Gaten Matarazzo, Boris is the antithesis of Toothless. Like a hyperactive football sock come to life, or a onesie with wings, this dragon is afraid of fire, will make you giggle at his attempt to perform an armpit fart, and cracks a great joke during a scene with a tortoise shell. He’s emblematic of My Father’s Dragon as whole, in that he’s colourful and vibrant, but also unwieldly and a little formulaic.
As a counter, Jacob Tremblay does fine work as our young adventurer, particularly during the emotional beats of the off-island sequences. It’s here where Cartoon Saloon seems to excel, grounding the fantastical with their portrayal of family. For some the film might take off as Whoopi Goldberg’s cat sends Elmer on his incredible journey, but the mother/son dynamics which play out before that are arguably the strongest scenes in My Father’s Dragon.
The island, with its rising tide climate change allegory, is still a place to behold though. Like one of those story books you had as a kid with the ‘pull here’ tabs to make the sea move, even if the story isn’t up to their usual peerless standards, the world-building and imagination manifest of is sublime.
Judged against most other animated films My Father’s Dragon and its tangerine dreamscape would soar above the competition, but Cartoon Saloon have set themselves a bar, and no amount of wing flapping will get this close to what has come before.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter