A Cornelia Funke (“Inkheart”) novel allowed a German/Dutch animation operation and Netflix to elbow their way into “lads who ride dragons” stories with “Firedrake the Silver Dragon,” a movie that goofs on “How to Train Your Dragon” and makes itself “How to Train Your Dragon” adjacent at all times, and in many ways.
But this decently-animated, exposition-heavy, laugh-starved adventure farce never comes close to even the weakest “Train Your Dragon” film and TV moments. There’s little heart and little else to recommend it, even if your wee ones never quite got their fill of dragons, flying on them and the like.
There’s barely even any Scots accents in this story of dragons, humans, pixies, a basilisk, dwarves and their ilk.
A shadow cutout animation opening tells us another version of the myth that there was a day when “humans and dragons lived in perfect harmony.” But that was long ago. In the present, dragons live in a secluded colony, hiding from humans, listening to tales of long ago from the grizzled, toothless Slatebeard (voiced by Peter Marinker).
But human encroachment — strip mining, environmental degradation, basically Kentucky without the horses — is closing in. The dragons have to do something.
Young Firedrake (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and his brownie (pixie) pal Sorrel (Felicity Jones) sneak out to seek help, to find this mythic place called “The Rim of Heaven.” But first, they stop off in the city.
That’s where they crash a “How to Train Your Dragon” premiere, and fetch a gap-toothed teen fan (Freddie Highmore). Firedrake takes the caped cosplayer at his word when he, shocked at meeting a real dragon, describes himself as a “dragon rider.”
The liar/hustler joins them on their quest, which has them meet an Australian scientist (David Brooks) who “saves” rare mythic creatures and keeps them on a preserve, a “mighty djinn (Nonso Anozie) who is more trouble than he’s worth and an Indian researcher (Meera Syal) who knows all about dragons and dragon lore.
Along the way, we learn the dragon rider’s “secret” and Firedrake’s hidden shame. Let’s just say they call him “Lame Flame” back home.
And then there’s the steampunk “draconoid” Nettlebrand (Patrick Stewart) created long ago for the express purpose of killing off dragons, now on their trail because he’d love to refresh his taste for fiery, flying flesh.
The jokes are of the cell-phone “How will I communicate with you?” “SKYPE me!” and consulting “the all know oracle…the Internet” variety.
The “How to Train Your Dragon” riff is cute, but just reminds you of the earlier, better film and its inferior sequels and TV series. The German writer Ms. Funke published her “Dragon Writer” book 13 years before “How to Train Your Dragon” hit theaters, so the time to litigate who was stealing whose ideas is long past.
The only times I laughed were at the Indian scenes which had a playful quality the rest of the film lacked.
“Dragon Rider” as was this film’s working title (perhaps until Universal’s lawyers showed up) starts out dizzy, stumbles into boring as the exposition — all these new lands and new creatures are introduced — keeps going on and on, with little character development, no laughs and generic action beats.
Unless your kids need a digital babysitting session, I’d skip this.
Cast: The voices of Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Felicity Jones, Freddie Highmore, Nonso Anozie, Meera Syal and Patrick Stewart
Credits: Directed by Tomer Eshed, scripted by Johnny Smith, based on the novel by Cornelia Funke. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:33