Netflix animation feature film “My Father’s Dragon”, which was released a few days ago, is another charming work from Carton Saloon, an Irish film production company which gave us a series of stellar Oscar-nominated animation films including “The Secret of Kells” (2009) and “Wolfwalkers” (2020). Like these stellar works, “My Father’s Dragon” engages us a lot via a number of gorgeous visual moments, and these wonderful moments further accentuate the emotional aspects of its very simple but ultimately poignant fantasy tale.
At the beginning, the narration by Mary Kay Place, who has become more notable thanks to her recent acclaimed performance in Kent Jones’ “Diane” (2018), sets the tone of the film, and we are introduced to a young boy named Elmer (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and his mother Dela (voiced by Golshifteh Farahani). They have been happy together as running a little shop together, but, unfortunately, their happy time does not last long due to some serious economic recession, and Dela has no choice but to close down the shop and leave for some big city along with her son.
Shortly after arriving in the city, Dela and her son come to stay in a little shabby building belonging to one cranky old lady. She promises to Elmer that everything will be fine in the end, but, no matter how much she tries, she cannot find any opportunity for earning some money for them, and we come to sense her growing desperation unlike Elmer, who still believes his mother’s white lie about their current status.
Eventually, Elmer becomes quite disillusioned after clashing with his mother due to a matter involved with one stray cat. That prompts him to run away from his mother, and that is how his little adventure begins. When he subsequently arrives at a pier at the fringe of the city, he is surprised when that stray cat, which happens to follow after him, suddenly talks to him, and the cat tells him about a certain island full of wild animals. In that island, there is a dragon which can help him solve his and his mother’s current problem, and Elmer is soon taken to that island by a talking whale once he agrees to go there.
Around the time when Elmer arrives at the island, the island, which looks like a big giant ball floating on the sea, is going through its latest peril. For some reason, the island keeps getting sunk, and Saiwa the Gorilla (voiced by Ian McShane), the leader of many different wild animals in the island, has exploited the flying power of the dragon to prevent their island from being completely sunk.
It seems that all Elmer has to do is rescuing the dragon and then finding the solution to the imminent crisis of the island, but the situation turns out to be more complex than expected. For example, the dragon, which is incidentally named Boris (voiced by Gaten Matarazzo), turns out to be a naïve young dragon which still has not done his coming-of-age ritual yet, and the story has some silly fun with his childish personality. In case of Saiwa the Gorilla, he is not an evil character at all, and we come to see that he really wants to save the island and his fellow wild animals because, well, he does care a lot.
As the screenplay by Meg LaFauve, which is based on the children’s novel of the same name by Ruth Stile Gannett, leisurely moves from one narrative point to another, the film gives us many superb scenes of splendid visual beauty. While the island surely looks magical on the outside as required, a number of various spots inside the island also shine with simple but sublime qualities, and several different wild animal characters introduced along the story bring extra wonder to the overall picture.
All these and many other things in the film are gorgeously presented on the screen via cell animation style, and that brings a lot of charm and personality to the film. The characters and backgrounds mostly look simple and broad, but they are full of distinctive details to notice, and the overall result often looks more vivid and impressive while also enhancing the story itself. Although the story feels a bit overlong during its last act, the visual power of the film still holds our attention at least, and the story wisely lets us gather what Elmer comes to learn during his adventure with Boris – and how he comes to grow up a lot around the end of the story.
Director Nora Twomey, who co-directed “The Secret of Kells” and then directed “The Breadwinner” (2017), assembles an impressive array of performers around Jacob Tremblay and Gaten Matarazzo, whose good voice performances work well as the heart and soul of the film. Golshifteh Farahani, Ian McShane, Whoopi Goldberg, Rita Moreno, Dianne Wiest, Chris O’Dowd, Judy Greer, Alan Cumming, and Jackie Earle Haley are all solid on the whole, and Farahani and McShane deserve some praise for ably handling their complex supporting characters.
In conclusion, “My Father’s Dragon” is a lovely animation film which is enjoyable in terms of mood, details, and storytelling. Like another recent Netflix animation film “Wendell & Wild” (2022), the film is surely brimming with life and personality, and I think kids can enjoy it as well as adults. Yes, it may be a little too slow for kids, but I think they will eventually savor its colorful moments, and adult accompanying them will certainly appreciate the considerable efforts shown from the screen.
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