Based on the famous children’s book, My Father’s Dragon is the newest movie from one of my favorite unsung animation studios, Cartoon Saloon. Responsible for such magical titles as The Secret of Kells and my personal favorite, Song of the Sea, Cartoon Brew always injects their films with a vibrant heart not dissimilar to Pixar, and typically centers around coming-of-age struggles personified. My Father’s Dragon is no exception—this memorable tale centers on sweet Elmer as he struggles to help keep him and his single mother afloat during a raging recession. Featuring an all-star cast of vocal talents that include Jacob Tremblay, Gaten Matarazzo, Rita Moreno, Judy Greer, Alan Cumming, and many more, My Father’s Dragon is vibrant fun for the whole family.
We first follow young Elmer, working with his mother at her store. The narrator, apparently his eventual daughter, is sure to note that Elmer has always been good at finding things. They get hit with hard times, and are forced to depart for a new adventure. Nevergreen City, here we come! Their apartment is all the way at the tippy top of an imposing city building. The landlord seems like a crabby, unpleasant woman who makes her hatred of children and animals very clear. Elmer tries to start a savings jar, but his mother is quick to deplete it in her pursuit of a job to help pay the bills.
The story really sets off when a mysterious cat follows Elmer back inside his apartment. Chased off by his angry mother, Elmer runs away only to realize that the cat shockingly can talk! She promises to know a way he can get a dragon of his very own to help make the necessary funds Elmer needs to hatch a new store concept with his mom. Elmer gets introduced to the adorable giant white wale, Soda, and just like that, he is well on his way to Wild Island! They make a pit stop to a budding tree full of tangerines that later come into play when Elmer discovers a family of adorable, trapped rhinos.
Arriving at this island is where a lot of the creativity explodes. A gorilla named Saiwa seems to reign over the various animals, and the island itself appears to bob up and down in the water mysteriously. Paramount to this scenario, Elmer rescues a strange dragon whom he anticipates to be a vicious, powerful creature. This dragon is no fire-breather, but instead a silly, overly-sensitive hugger afraid of both fire and water. Introducing himself as Boris, this dragon longs to fulfill his purpose. As Boris explains to Elmer, every 100 years, a dragon must come to Wild Island as a rite of passage, and save it from sinking. If successful in their attempts, the dragon would then become like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, evolving into what Boris calls an “afterdragon.” Elmer makes a deal with Boris: he will help Boris discover how to save the island, but in return, Boris must return afterward to Nevergreen to assistant in Elmer’s fundraising for his mother’s shop.
While its setup may certainly seem a little complex for younger viewers, there is no doubt in my mind that out of all the Cartoon Saloon titles I have seen, this is the one that would be the most accessible to children. Mainly, this is due to the film’s tone and lush animation style, but one cannot overlook the importance of friendship bonds, Boris’s naïveté, and Elmer’s loving, determined mindset. My Father’s Dragon is filled with important messages, yet still maintains a whimsical sense of fun lacking in many mainstream animated attempts. Illustrations from the children’s book play out over the credits in one final attempt to play up the film’s cutesy charms. My Father’s Dragon is heartwarming and fun, a movie that conclusively almost feels imported from a bygone era.
My Father’s Dragon takes flight to Netflix when it debuts for audiences everywhere on Friday, November 11th.