Netflixable? An Animated Fantasy for Kids by the “Kells” Team — “My Father’s Dragon”

“My Father’s Dragon,” the new film version of Ruth Stiles Gannett’s beloved 1940s children’s books, is an adorable and engaging fantasy and, in this interpretation, something of a parable.

Animated by the Irish Cartoon Saloon team that gave us “The Secret of Kells” and “Wolfwalkers,” its about taking responsibility for others, thinking through problems and figuring out that no one person, deity or whatever is going to have “the answer.”

An older woman narrates this tale of “my father” when he was a little boy. He grew up helping his mother run their rural general store until business dried up and they had to move to NeverGreen City. Elmer (Jacob Tremblay) is out of sorts there, and Mom (Goldshifteh Farahani) struggles to find work and feed them. Even Elmer’s ingrained salesmanship is of no use.

But when a stray cat follows him home he at least has someone to vent to. Why is everything so HARD?” She has some thoughts. And as she sounds like Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg, she’s worth hearing out. She suggests he go fetch this dragon she’s heard of.

Next thing he knows, Elmer’s riding a giggly/ditzy/chatty whale named Soda (Judy Greer, of course) to Wild Island. But upon arrival, the boy learns the dragon in question is enslaved, forced to periodically fly and tow the island airborne, because it’s steadily sinking into the sea.

Elmer frees the dragon, whom we learn is named Boris (Gaten Matarazzo) and who is quite young a tad silly himself. But the apes of Wild Island are thrown into a tizzy. Gorilla leader Saiwa (Ian McShane) is the one who dreamed up that desperate measure of enslaving Boris to lift the island out of the water so that everybody else — monkeys to rhinos, crocodiles to tigers — won’t drown.

Saiwa counsels that “This is not the time to panic,” but from Kwan the macaque (Chris O’Dowd) to the tiny tamarin Tamir (Jackie Earle Haley), they do. Saiwa tries to balance the understandable need to change an unsustainable status quo. But the howler monkeys around him just want to recapture the dragon and save themselves.

Elmer has to reconcile what he’s done, because his main interest was in having a dragon to display for profit in NeverGreen City, with his responsibility to all the creatures he meets on the island. Saiwa has to admit he kept the dragon hostage for equally selfish motives and figure out something new, maybe tying the dragon back up until a solution is discovered.

That said, the film goes easy on the messaging, as younger viewers (I’d say this was an eight-and-under cartoon) will more interested in the many chatty creatures young Elmer and younger Boris encounter on their quest to see the all-wise old tortoise, Aratuah, who surely will have an answer.

Alan Cumming plays a crocodile and Oscar winner Diane Wiest voices a rhino, for instance.

It’s all very cute and simple and childish in all the best kid-lit ways, with a star-studded voice cast that includes a third Oscar winner, Rita Moreno, playing a cranky landlady.

And thanks to the distinct look of films from Cartoon Saloon, this Nora Twomey (she also directed “The Breadwinner”) project plays and feels like a fairytale that has a bit more going on than sight-gags and punchlines.

Rating: PG, animated peril

Cast: The voices of Jacob Tremblay, Rita Moreno, Judy Greer,
Gaten Matarazzo, Ian McShane, Chris O’Dowd, Jackie Earle Haley, Alan Cumming, Leighton Meester, Golshifteh Farahani, Yara Shahidi, Diane Wiest and Whoopi Goldberg, narrated by Mary Kay Place.

Credits: Directed by Nora Twomey, scripted by Meg LeFauve, based on the book by Ruth Stiles Gannett. A Cartoon Saloon production for Netflix.

Running time: 1:39

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.