The latest film from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, My Father’s Dragon — which hits Netflix on November 11 — is an adorable entry into their impressive cinematic canon. Although its somewhat simplistic story and core characters prevent it from surpassing the standard set by the studio’s previous films, My Father’s Dragon is a solid movie for young audiences and older anime fans alike.
According to the children’s book of the same name, My Father’s Dragon follows Elmer (Jacob Tremblay), who has just moved to the town of NeverGreen with his mother (Golshifteh Farahani). Without the funds to open their own store and furious at his mother for lying about his plans, Elmer runs away and is greeted by a talking cat (Whoopi Goldberg) who orders him to go to Wild Island and help to free the young dragon. Boris (stranger things star Gaten Matarazzo). Along the way, they encounter many of the island’s inhabitants, including the excitable whale Soda (Judy Greer), the friendly rhinoceros Iris (Dianne Wiest) and the dangerous crocodile Cornelius (Alan Cumming), all of whom fear that the island is sinking. once and for all if Boris can’t lift it.
Things get more complicated with Saiwa (John Wick veteran Ian McShane), the animal leader of Wild Island. The island is constantly on the verge of sinking and Saiwa has captured Boris to force him to keep the island afloat by any means necessary. Tensions were already erupting in his camp thanks to the panicked Tamir (Jackie Earle Haley) and his ape lieutenant Kwan (Chris O’Dowd) before Elmer found Boris and freed him. In doing so, Elmer hastens the possible sinking of the island. Quickly befriending Boris, Elmer decides that they must work together to try to save the island, and in doing so, help Boris achieve his true final form as an Elder Dragon.
As with any movie from Cartoon Saloon, the animation studio that has produced other great 2D animated movies like wolf walkers and Kels’ secret, My Father’s Dragon turns out to be a surprisingly lively production. The world is given a bright and colorful presentation, closer to a storybook than anything else. The movement of the individual characters might not always be perfectly smooth, but the smaller and larger beats flow with an artistic flair. There is a smoothness and a stylish aspect to the animation of My Father’s Dragoneven compared to their previous films like song of the sea, giving the characters very cute and cartoonish designs. By contrast, the human characters (including Elmer himself, to some degree) feel static, which seems partly on purpose, but it detracts from some of the film’s quieter moments.
This levity is also present in the tone of the film, which comes across more as aimed at children than their misleading stories for all ages like wolf walkers and turns out to be a far cry from the heavy subjects explored in films like The breadwinner. My Father’s Dragon addresses very adult fears but presents them all through a very open and childlike perspective. The friendship between Elmer and Boris mirrors the stressed bond between Elmer and his mother, and it serves as an easy-to-understand metaphor for young audiences. Tremblay’s performance does much of the film’s heavy lifting, infusing Elmer with a mix of childlike wonder, teenage fear and budding maturity. Most of the characters are played well by talented actors, but the characters lack the depth to really stand out – except McShane’s Saiwa, whose dedication to true leadership turns a potentially one-note villain into a complex character.
My Father’s Dragon is arguably the simplest Cartoon Saloon film to date, though the superb animation hints at their experience and craftsmanship. It’s a straightforward morality story that’s ideally designed and constructed for young viewers, devoid of the more violent and tragic elements present in their other films. It’s not to the detriment of the film by any stretch of the imagination, coming across as a moving storybook in the best way. The production of Cartoon Saloon is among the best examples of what modern animation has to offer, and My Father’s Dragon is a worthy (if not too ambitious) entry into the canon.
My Father’s Dragon debuts on Netflix on November 11.