Netflix’s new animated film is a delightful adaptation of the 1948 children’s book series.
My Father’s Dragon follows the story of Elmer Elevator (Jacob Tremblay), a young optimistic boy who lives with his mother, Dela (Golshifteh Farahani), who owns a grocery store in a small town. When Dela is forced to close the beloved store, she and Elmer move to a big city, where they find life is much more challenging. Dela struggles to raise enough money to make ends meet, much less open a new grocery store. In an act of frustration, Elmer runs away, and a talking cat and talking whale (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Judy Greer, respectively) guide him to the mystical Wild Island, where he is instructed to find an illusive dragon, who can allegedly help his mother. Elmer then teams up with this dragon (a lovable goofball named Boris, voiced by the equally as lovable Gaten Matarazzo) as the pair strike a deal that will help Elmer raise the funds needed for his mother’s store, while also securing Boris the title of an “After Dragon.”
There are a number of factors that make this film an absolute delight. Tremblay gives a strong performance in the leading role, carrying the film with an essence of charming sincerity that he brings to every role. Ian McShane also gives a standout performance as Saiwa the Gorilla, the leading villain of the film, who is convinced Boris can never break free to the full level of “After Dragon.” His domineering voice is reminiscent of classic Disney cartoon villains (à la Shere Khan from The Jungle Book). The film is also stacked with a number of fun cameos from a loaded cast, which includes standouts like Chris O’Dowd, Alan Cumming, and Rita Moreno.
However, the true standout in the film is Matarazzo, who arguably offers his best performance to date. He manages to capture the quirky and goofy personality of Boris, while still honing in a level of humanity that keeps it from ever becoming too much. His chemistry with Tremblay plays well, and the emotional scenes near the end of the film shared between them are beyond heartwarming. While both actors have established themselves quite well up to this point, this movie suggests a potential promising voice acting career for either.
The style of animation is also gorgeous. Co-produced by Cartoon Saloon, known for animation darlings such as Song of the Sea (2014)and Wolfwalkers (2020), My Father’s Dragon offers a gorgeous world illustrated with the underutilized 2D animation style. The colorful and fantastical world portrayed on screen are a visual wonder to behold that compliment the fantasy element from the film’s source adaptation, Ruth Stiles Gannett’s series of children’s books under the same name.
Meg LeFauve brings forth a strong screenplay that reflects her talents. Just as she has in previous works (most notably Pixar’s Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur), LeFauve is a master at managing to pull very emotionally mature themes on a level that can be comprehended for an intended children’s audience, that still hits home for adults. And this one does not shy away from discussing themes of complicated (if not still generally positive) parental relationships, the effects of parental pressure on children, and self doubts.
The movie handles these themes beautifully, on a level that never crosses into being too heavy. Elmer begins to realize that maybe his mother relies on him a little too much, but it never crosses the line into him resenting her for such. If anything, this realization helps him strengthen his relationship with her in the end. It’s a theme that can resonate with adult audiences, while never crossing the line into being too dark for children.
My Father’s Dragon is a delight of a film that is suitable for the entire family to enjoy. With a stellar cast, gorgeous animation style, and a heartfelt story, this one is undoubtedly one of the stronger animated films of the year.
Likely: Best Animated Feature
Should Be Considered: Best Adapted Screenplay
Where To Watch: In Select Theaters; Netflix
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett