My Father’s Dragon

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

My Father's Dragon
dir Nora Twomey
scr Meg LeFauve
prd Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn, Paul Young
voices Jacob Tremblay, Gaten Matarazzo, Golshifteh Farahani, Ian McShane, Chris O'Dowd, Rita Moreno, Whoopi Goldberg, Dianne Wiest, Judy Greer, Alan Cumming, Jackie Earle Haley, Mary Kay Place, Adam Brody, Charlyne Yi
release UK/US 4.Nov.22
22/Ireland Netflix 1h39

tremblay farahani mcshane
london film fest

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My Father's Dragon
With the same colourfully hand-made quality as her previous animated films (see The Secret of Kells and WolfWalkers), Nora Twomey's new fantastical odyssey feels like it comes from the mind of a particularly imaginative child. Young viewers will especially enjoy its mix of goofy slapstick and gently thrilling action. There is also quite a bit of outrageous anime-style nuttiness and dazzling visual panache running through this energetic romp.
During a recession, Dela (Farahani) takes cheeky son Elmer (Tremblay) to find a new home in the city. But urban buzz is too much for Elmer, and he runs away to find peace. Then a talking cat (Goldberg) promises him a dragon that will help him and his mother open a new shop in town. So Elmer heads off, riding a whale called Soda (Greer) to Wild Island, where he frees imprisoned juvenile dragon Boris (Matarazzo), and they go in search of help. But the island's gorilla ruler Saiwa (McShane) is determined to recapture Boris.
Hoping to mature into a proper fire-breathing dragon, Boris is grappling with his identity as the island's saviour, frustrated that as Saiwa's slave he has no say in the matter. Both he and Elmer are seeking answers to huge questions about their futures, and each has a distinct coming-of-age arc to travel, as scary as they both might be. Where the story goes is of course soaring and delightful, and also more than a little bit bonkers in its unexpected twists and turns.

The film is populated with wildly inventive characters who are designed and voiced with flair. Set in places that bristle with bright-hued life, each person and animal has an enormous personality, finding the laughs in offhanded dialog that's never forced. While Elmer and Boris have terrific camaraderie at the centre, scene stealers include the riotously drawn flustered crocodile Cornelius (voiced by Cumming) and cranky landlady Mrs McClaren (Moreno).

Each character in this story thinks they have the answers to the bigger problems, but because they don't listen to each other, they are heading into disaster. Basically, everyone is scared, and only the ones who admit that to each other have any chance of changing the situation and finding a path forward. So even if the final act feels perhaps a little simplistic and sentimental, there are deeper ideas swirling under the surface that have real impact. And the powerful idea at the end is that being scared isn't always a bad thing.

cert pg themes, violence 6.Oct.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall