Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 39 minutes, Director – Nora Twomey
Having recently moved to the city with his mother (Golshifteh Farahani) Elmer (Jacob Tremblay) finds himself in search of a dragon (Gaten Matarazzo) to help him raise money for them to buy a place to open a store.
Cartoon Saloon are currently five for five with their latest feature My Father’s Dragon continuing their brand of finely animated drifts into fantastical storytelling. While it may take a couple of minutes to get used to one of their films containing prominent American accents (The Breadwinner very much being its own thing with the non-Irish accents) you can’t overly hold that against the film and soon the fantasy begins to settle in shortly after young Elmer (Jacob Tremblay) moves with his mother (Golshifteh Farahani) from a small town the expanses of the city.
Before moving the pair ran a shop where every customer seemed to know each other and them. The place was filled with colour and there seemed to be little trouble for mother and son. However, when the shop closes and they move to the dark city streets there’s plenty of business but little interaction. That which they do get is from hostile landlord Mrs McClaren (Rita Moreno) – who ends up receiving most of the coins saved up to buy a place to open up a new shop as rent.
Despite trying his best Elmer finds himself raising little money to help. While things may begin to feel somewhat conventional and unlike other Cartoon Saloon fare just as Elmer is on the verge of giving up the fantasy steps in in the form of Whoopi Goldberg as a talking cat, quickly followed by Judy Greer as an excitable whale called Soda. They direct the young protagonist to a place called Wild Island in the hope of finding a dragon which can help him raise money to save up for the dreamed-of store. Yet, while he may be ready for a dragon Elmer isn’t quite ready for the kind of dragon that he’ll find – namely a round, clumsy one with a broken wing, still waiting to become an ‘Ever Dragon’.
To do this Boris (Gaten Matarazzo) must lift up the island to stop it from sinking as is done by a dragon every 100 years, however despite trying the change has never occurred for him. Meanwhile, the other inhabitants of the island – led by large, white gorilla Siwa (a highly enjoyable Ian McShane who, like a number of members of the starry voice cast, seems to be relishing the role in a film like this) – are increasingly fearing that it will sink and that their home will vanish at any point. Therefore the hunt is on to capture the missing dragon and the boy who set him free before it’s too late.
As we explore the various elements and sections of the island, and more colourful creatures – including Alan Cumming as an irritable crocodile called Cornelius – it’s easy to generally be caught up within the unfolding events. The film as a whole may not be anything overly complex, but does that really mater? There’s an enjoyable time to be had with the occasional moment of humour and the general lightness that’s on display throughout. The more the relatively short (99 minutes, including credits) run-time goes on the more engaged you feel, particularly once in the realm of Wild Island.
Eventually you can feel a bond between boy and dragon which provides further amusement and allows you to simply feel more a part of the piece. There’s a mild charm to their bond which you realise in the later stages as the film begins to reach the third act. A number of the elements and tones may take some time for you to realise, and in some cases the film as it builds each thing up over time, but in the end there’s an entertaining and rather delightful piece of work here. One which eventually takes you in for another fantastical dive into a love for storytelling and escapism from Cartoon Saloon, perhaps some of the most creative and imaginative storytellers working in cinema today.
While some elements may take a bit of time to build up there’s plenty to enjoy within My Father’s Dragon, particularly once it gets into its rather charming fantastical reaches.