My Father’s Dragon comes to Netflix this week, bringing stunning animation and a poignant story of trust and friendship to the streamer.
Based on a children’s book of the same name (one that released all the way back in 1948), My Father’s Dragon tells the story of young Elmer. Having life with his mother suddenly uprooted as the pair find themselves down on their luck and forced to move to Nevergreen City. With slim resources and holed up in a tiny, rundown apartment, the ever helpful Elmer feels out of his depth.
My Father’s Dragon
Directed By: Nora Twomey
Written By: Meg LeFauve
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Gaten Matarazzo, Ian McShane
Release Date: November 11, 2022 on Netflix
When he gets in an argument with his mother over their current circumstances, Elmer sets out to find a way to solve their problems all on his own. When he stumbles upon a talking cat, he’s suddenly thrust into a fantastical world that might be the answer he seeks.
Carried on the back of a whale, Elmer soon finds himself on Wild Island, a place filled with all manner of terrifying creatures, that is sinking into the ocean. The animal inhabitants have captured a dragon who’s supposed to save the island, but things aren’t going as planned. When Elmer sets Boris the dragon free, he finds himself unexpectedly helping the young creature as they must work together to survive all the creatures hunting them while finding a way to save the island.
Generally speaking, it’s a fairly straightforward story. I mean, it’s based off a children’s tale and meant to work as a fable, so being complicated isn’t the point. That said, I won’t dive much deeper into the story elements as I’m avoiding spoilers. Suffice it to say, we all end up learning a big lesson by the end of it.
For the most part, I really enjoyed My Father’s Dragon. The film manages to pull together a pretty impressive voice cast (including Jacob Tremblay, Whoopi Goldberg, Ian McShane, Judy Greer, and many more), and all of them seem to be having a blast as they play a variety of wild animals.
It’s a touching story and wonderfully animated. I mean, seriously, it looks gorgeous. It goes with the a 2D animation style (something I’m always a huge fan of), but they also manage to capture the feel of looking at storybook pictures.
It’s a unique style that mostly leans away from the traditional hard lines; instead allowing different colors/tones make the distinction between backgrounds, sets, and characters. My Father’s Dragon is FAR from the first animated project to use this technique, but the way it’s applied here is pretty wonderful. There’s a sense of whimsy infused in it that makes it feel as though you’re curling up with your kid and reading a story.
This whimsical feeling is pervasive throughout all the other aspects of the movie. In many ways, it felt a lot like watching classic Studio Ghibli movies! It’s not something I say lightly, but, aside from the general style being different, it captured that Ghibli storytelling impressively well.
What’s really impressive, however, are the themes being presented. For the most part, My Father’s Dragon is a story about coping with change, trust, and friendship. In the context of the story, some of these themes feel pretty heavy, but the movie does an excellent job of showcasing everything in a clear way that younger kids will easily be able to understand. Combine that with a solid dose of humor (mostly due to the interactions between Elmer and Boris), and it feels like the kind of movie kids are going to be able to enjoy over and over.
It’s a touching, and heartfelt journey…it just drags on a little long for me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie overall, and definitely think my kiddos are going to enjoy it as well, but it does reach a point where events just kinda linger. There were a couple points where I felt my attention wavering and I was ready for the story to move on. At nearly two hours, it’s a decent sized animated film, though it feels like it could have been a much tighter 90 minute flick instead.
It feels like a minor gripe, overall. The voice work, animation, and story are all solid, but I do wonder if those slower parts will lose some younger viewers before it wraps everything up. Either way, My Father’s Dragon does an excellent job conveying its central themes and bringing this classic story to life in a fresh way for new audiences.