Runtime: 99 minutes
Director: Nora Twomey
Writer: Meg LeFauve (Based on My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett)
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Gaten Matarazzo
By Calum Cooper
Cartoon Saloon is one of the studios leading the charge in modern animation. Based in Ireland, their enchanting animations are visually and narratively akin to children’s storybooks come to life. Nora Twomey returns to the studio after her hard-hitting feature “The Breadwinner” (2017) to deliver “My Father’s Dragon” (2022). Although much lighter in tone by comparison, “My Father’s Dragon” is but another highlight in Cartoon Saloon’s growingly impressive filmography.
Based on the childrens’ books by Ruth Stiles Gannett, “My Father’s Dragon” is dictated by an unknown narrator who recounts the story of her father during his childhood. As a boy, Elmer (Jacob Tremblay), moves to the city of Nevergreen with his mother after the pair fall on hard times. Elmer runs away from home and finds himself on Wild Island, a fantasy island ruled by animals. They have a dragon (Gaten Matarazzo) chained to the island, as they believe keeping the dragon captive is the only way to save the island from being flooded. Freeing the dragon, who he names Boris, Elmer sets off to find a new way to save Wild Island.
The films of Cartoon Saloon have always leaned into fantasy to at least some extent. Whether it’s the metaphorical stories of “The Breadwinner” or the supernatural folklore elements to “Wolfwalkers” (2020) or “Song of the Sea” (2014), these films have always had elements of magical realism to their storytelling. “My Father’s Dragon” is a throwback to adventure stories of old. A ragtag duo travel to a magical location meeting all sorts of odd or fascinating characters along the way. As they travel, they learn to appreciate the value of friendship, selflessness and plenty more. It is a narrative as standard as time itself, but the old school feel very much to the film’s favour.
“The stunning visuals, and especially the measured direction from Twomey heighten the emotional resonance of the film’s sage words of wisdom.”
The nostalgic feel to the story elevates the film’s feel of a fairytale come to life, as does the animation. A euphoric blend of warm colours and delicate line drawings, the storybook immersion of Cartoon Saloon is as palpable as ever. The cinematography and editing play to the animation’s strengths to fully absorb the audience. Rarely have colours and creature designs ever been so inviting or expressive. The industrial greys of the aptly named Nevergreen juxtapose the intense autumn colours of Wild Island and expressive features of the character designs.
Elmer and Boris are a loveable and exciting pair of characters who make the adventurous story all the more engaging. The voice talents of Jacob Tremblay and Gaten Matarazzo go the extra mile in creating such engaging characters. The pair recorded their lines together, and the efforts of this show through the impeccable chemistry between them. Comedy and heartfelt connection bounce between these characters naturally; their budding connection adding to the enchantment and the tension of the story as it proceeds. Meg LeFauve‘s screenplay is as considerate to her characters as it is playful in its approach tongenre.
Between the lines of this duo is a really interesting allegory on parenthood. The adventure kicks off as Elmer doesn’t understand the hardships his mother is going through just to keep them both afloat. Yet as Elmer befriends and comes to understand Boris, he finds his initial role in the relationship of parent and child switched. This allegory allows for the exploration of some powerful themes regarding fear, responsibility and perseverance; particularly in regards to how these things are as tough for adults as they are for children. The stunning visuals, and especially the measured direction from Twomey heighten the emotional resonance of the film’s sage words of wisdom. What it leaves us with is a dazzling adventure of humorous and gargantuan proportions.
While “My Father’s Dragon” follows somewhat conventional territory, its confidence at navigating this negates any feelings of familiarity. With its lush art style, playful yet mature tone, brisk pace, and giddy voice acting, this is a stellar work of animation; one that’ll enchant families of all ages. If Cartoon Saloon continues to create films even half as good as this one, then we really are in a new golden age of animated cinema.