Written and directed by Jean-Jacques Denis and Anthony Roux, Princess Dragon is a magical French animated fantasy that shines in its loving attention to detail, and Ghibli-esque heart. Like the best kinds of fairy tale movies, Princess Dragon begins with an age-old “once upon a time” before charting its story of friendship and celebrating one’s uniqueness. That the film contains a beautiful message makes it that much easier to recommend—there is something so charming about a brightly-animated production with its heart in the right place.
A lonely dragon named Dragon lives deep in a mountain, and being the only creature in the forest who cannot birth children begins to take its toll. As such, Dragon seeks out a legendary Frogceress (half-frog, half-sorceress), who is quick to make a deal with Dragon. For three months, he must warm three seeds—only then will his sadness turn to joy. There is, however, one catch: the Frogceress will come for Dragon’s second-most cherished possession. Out of these seeds hatch three babies for Dragon to care for, two of which are relatively normal and dragon-like. One is named Rock, with the next-born named Zephyr. The third however is a very special human with a giant mane of green hair and the ability to converse with animals!
Initially, Dragon is appalled at this child, naming her Bristle and trying to drop her off to be eaten by a giant bear before discovering that she has fire-breathing abilities. Years later, Bristle comes to the rescue of a girl in the woods by the very same bear. This girl winds up being the princess of a nearby kingdom, aptly named Princess. The naming conventions here may be very on-the-nose, but in their simplicity there is a sort of charm that is difficult to replicate. Princess longs to discover a spell to turn herself into a boy, and is accompanied by her trusted pony, Seneschal. Princess and Bristle bond unexpectedly; Princess is a total bookworm, and Bristle is fiercely protective and in need of friends her own age. Bristle brings Princess back to the family cave, as her journey back home would be far too arduous into the night through a storm. What awakens inside Dragon is an anger and hatred towards humans, and he is completely appalled that Bristle would bring one of them into their family home.
Inopportunely, the time comes for the Frogceress to collect on what she is owed. Dragon offers up Bristle, who quickly flees in depression with the aid of Princess. Frogceress warns Dragon that he has only until the full moon to deliver Bristle, lest she take both of his sons as her form of payment. From here, the film becomes a deep story of friendship and acceptance. Those in the kingdom mostly view Bristle as a horrible outsider, but the queen instantly falls in love with Bristle and her “magnificent” hair. Awful suitor Count Albert, destined to one day wed Princess and become heir to the kingdom, and the power-hungry king who seeks Dragon’s treasure cove, remain hot on the heels of Princess and Bristle.
A satisfying ending and a fast-paced finale serve only to bolster the strengths of Princess Dragon. Furthermore, the unique style of the animation emphasizes the details on the dragons and the fantastical, leaving the human character designs leaning heavy into adorable territory. I have never seen a film quite like this one before, and it could very well be heavily attributed to a French production. Audiences everywhere will connect to Bristle’s instantly-iconic tale of being an outsider.
Princess Dragon screened at 2022’s Fantasia International Film Festival.