REVIEW: ‘My Father’s Dragon’ Feels Like A Storybook Come To Life

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My Father's Dragon

My Father’s Dragon, written by Meg LaFauve and directed by Nora Twomey, is an adaptation of the book by Ruth Stiles Garrett. Elmer Elevator (Jacob Tremblay) moves to a new city with his mother, Dela (Golshifteh Farahani), after they fall on hard times. But as Dela grows overwhelmed with keeping a roof over their heads, Elmer feels like she isn’t keeping the promise she made to reopen their grocery store. An encounter with a talking cat (Whoopi Goldberg) leads Elmer to the mysterious Wild Island, where he intends to find a dragon that can bring in the money he and his mother need.

However, when he finds the dragon Boris (Gaten Matarazzo), it isn’t what he expects. Unlike the fire-breathing, fierce beasts of old, Boris is a friendly dragon with trouble flying. And Elmer freeing Boris draws the attention of the gorilla Seiwa (Ian McShane), who had been using him to keep the island from sinking. Elmer and Boris race across the island to find a way to stop it from sinking, with Seiwa and his fellow primates hot on their tail.

Netflix has played host to various animated projects over the years. Among those projects are animated films that rival or exceed the ones that hit theaters, alongside animated anthologies and a wide variety of animation targeted toward adultsMy Father’s Dragon falls into that first category, as it boasts some of the most creative animations ever to hit a screen. Watching it, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the middle of a living, breathing storybook thanks to the work that Cartoon Saloon put into this film.

Many of the animals on Wild Island are a collection of shapes and highly expressive eyes, with the primates resembling balls of fur and tigers looking more like stuffed animals than ferocious hunters. And the transitions are a sight to behold as well. One scene features a tangerine dropping to the ground and then pulls up to reveal the Elevators’ old shop — which has seen better days. Animation is a visual medium, and Twomey uses that to significant effect to showcase her characters’ moods and the ever-shifting seasons.

At its core, My Father’s Dragon is a story about dealing with change, and LaFauve explores that in various parts of the film. Elmer can’t deal with the change that’s upended his life, so he tries to fix it. Boris thinks that the ability to change into a stronger dragon will help save the island but soon learns that true strength doesn’t mean having muscles or breathing fire. And even Siwa learns that there are some things you cannot change, no matter how great of an orator you are. It’s handled with a great amount of maturity and grace, letting big moments sink in for the audience to absorb.

My Father’s Dragon also boasts a great voice cast, particularly in Matarazzo and Tremblay. At this point in his career, Tremblay could play an “endearing kid character” in his sleep. But he also gives Elmer a quiet, underlying hurt that heals throughout the film. This is a boy who saw his dreams shattered and is fighting to put them back together. As for Matarazzo, he’s equally funny and charming as Boris, whose curiosity helps offset some of the darker parts of the film. McShane brings his usual sense of gravitas to Siwa, and other actors, including Jackie Earle Haley and Yara Shahadi, turn in excellent performances as well. The highlight has to be Rita Moreno as the Elevators’ grumpy landlady Mrs. Mclaren; her opinions on children and pets will draw more than a few laughs from viewers.

My Father’s Dragon boasts gorgeous animation that feels like a living storybook and a compelling story about weathering change. In a day and age where animation seems to be endlessly belittled or looked at as a tax write-off, it’s films like these that are a reminder of the power the medium holds, and it’s a reminder that a lot of people could use.

My Father’s Dragon will be available to stream on Netflix on November 11, 2022.


My Father's Dragon
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

My Father’s Dragon boasts gorgeous animation that feels like a living storybook and a compelling story about weathering change. In a day and age where animation seems to be endlessly belittled or looked at as a tax write-off, it’s films like these that are a reminder of the power the medium holds, and it’s a reminder that a lot of people could use.

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