Fantasy stories aimed at children are made of a special kind of magic. Not everything is filled with logic and you tend to believe everything put in front of you. There is a delight in letting go and being taken along for the cinematic ride. My Father's Dragon is a story that fills your heart and soul with joy and even despair at times. It captures the innocence of childhood and offers up harsh reality alongside its fantastical moments. Cartoon Saloon has done it again, created another film that you'll want to watch over and over, no matter what age you are.
After having to close their store in their rural village, Elmer and his mother move to the big suffocating city, Nevergreen. Unhappy with their new life, Elmer runs away. With help from a talking cat and a very cheerful whale, Elmer, goes on an adventure to Wild Island where he must rescue a dragon. But the adventure is far more than he could have imagined.
Cartoon Saloon is the animation house associated with the magical and beautiful 2D animation style films that captures the wonder of stories, like My Father's Dragon. Known for their Irish folktales; The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, Wolfwalkers and the more grounded and dramatic, adaptation of The Breadwinner, each story focuses on a child having to make life changing decisions, some involving supernatural elements and submitting to the unknown. Adapted from the book by Ruth Stiles Gannett, My Father's Dragon fits perfectly amongst the other titles and continues to showcase the immense talent involved, including director Nora Twomey.
What's truly superb about what Twomey has created here is that she isn't one to steer clear of harrowing or desperate images. From the new cramped noisy home Elmer shares with his mother, to the brutality of the animals on Wild Island and the terrifying images of the island sinking. Images such as these are important to see alongside those of friendship and joy. Twomey and the animators of Cartoon Saloon know how to balance these scenes.
Elmer and Boris the dragon are a delightful duo, each carrying a burden they don't how to lift. The two share many sweet moments and never once make you think to compare either of them to other dragon/human partnership that has come before. There are heartfelt performances throughout the cast but the absolute perfect casting and scene stealer is Gaten Matarazzo of Stranger Things fame, as Boris. He brings the dragon to life with a giggle and inquisitive spirit that can be difficult to bring across in a voice role but here, Boris is alive.
If there is one thing to be confused about in this film it is the lack of clear connection between why Elmer goes to the island at all and what happens at the very end. He does wish to save the dragon Boris but only so he can get the dragon to perform for him to earn money. The lesson here could be that he should try to value his relationships. But as this is one thing in a sea of fantastic images and characters, it's easy to forgive and let the story be.
My Father's Dragon will tug at the heart strings and makes you glad that there are still wholesome stories such as these to enjoy. A beautifully animated film full of splendour.