Netflix’s My Father’s Dragon Turns A Bizarre Book Into A Beautiful Movie

This review was published in conjunction with the film’s premiere at the 2022 BFI London Film Festival. My Father’s Dragon will premiere on Netflix in November.

My Father’s Dragon is one of those classic children’s books that seems to go straight to the subconscious. For children, it can feel comforting and full of surprises, but if you come to it as an adult – as I did recently, read it to my 5-year-old after a friend give us a copy – it just feels incredibly weird. (Actually, my kids think it’s weird, too.) Written by Ruth Stiles Gannett in 1948, tells the story of a boy who runs away after a disagreement with his mother to a Deserted Island, which he must defeat. Some animals can talk tragically. to rescue the candy-striped young dragon they had enslaved.

Netflix’s new cartoon adaptation, made by the great Irish studio Cartoon Saloon (Song of the Sea, Wolfwalkers), which holds the top-level plot synopsis, some characters, and the indelible design of the dragon Boris (illustrated by the author’s stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett). Boris is chubby and slightly puppy-dog, striped in blue and yellow, with floppy ears and small golden wings. Other than that, the film removes almost everything else. Directed by Nora Twomey (Breadwinner, Kells’ Secret) and screenwriter Meg LeFauve (Pixar’s Contradictory) rebuilt Gannetts’ fragmented surreal, small fable into something more like a structured children’s movie, but they’ve also made it fun and engaging more resonant. It’s a lovely movie.

In this version, the boy Elmer (Jacob Tremblay) – who, as we shall understand, grows up to be the father of an elderly, unnamed narrator (Mary Kay Place) – leads a happy life in a small town. small town with her single mother (Golshifteh Farahani), who runs a thriving neighborhood shop where everyone’s needs are met. Then came the hard times. (Twomey makes the transition obvious by letting a bright tangerine fall from a crate onto the floor, where it rolls and evaporates—a wonderfully eloquent gesture.) The boy and his mother move into a dilapidated inn in a bustling industrial city, he struggles to adjust to their new, rootless, impoverished circumstances. After Elmer’s mother chases an alley cat he adopted, he runs after it, into the far reaches of the city. Passing through a narrow rift, he emerges in a fanciful new reality, where the cat talks (with Whoopi Goldberg’s mischievous purr) and takes him to adventures on the back of a baby whale hyperactive.

The boy Elmer and the Dragon Boris passed through the autumn woods where many eyes were watching them

Image: Netflix

This new framework places the story in a psychological reality the book never had before, while honoring its mid-century American roots. Twomey and LeFauve’s ideas for expansion don’t stop there. In the book, the animals of the Wild Island are vain and lazy, and when the dragon falls from the sky, they capture him and take him as an air taxi, taking them across a river they don’t know. Might bother to swim through. or walk around. The film’s desert island is a more complex, metaphorical and moral place.

This domed and forbidden island is constantly sinking into the sea. Its animals, desperate to survive, capture Boris (Gaten Matarazzo) because he is strong enough, when mined into the rock of the island itself, to pull entire lands out of the water. The more he pulls, the more it sinks, but Saiwa, the gorilla (Ian McShane), the authoritative, caring, but blinking animal’s leader, is a new idea out of the way. There are also mysteries: a bright white fire pit at the top of the island, the legend of a turtle that everyone knows somewhere in its heart, and rudimentary hieroglyphs of a ” the next dragon” spits out the fire Boris longed for. The dragon and the island seemed to have something to do with each other, but so what?

Unlike the book that saved the boy and dragon’s encounter to the end, Twomey and LeFauve wasted no time bringing them together. Elmer and Boris explore the island together, encountering a stranded rhinoceros with her baby, an aggressive alligator and its parents, some ferocious but lovable roly-poly tigers and a pack Angry spherical hamster. The animals are played to be amusing and sickly by a stellar cast that includes such treasures as Dianne Wiest, Judy Greer, Chris O’Dowd, and Alan Cumming. McShane, his wonderfully rich voice spiced with anger and anxiety, is playing a gorilla with the weight of an entire island on his shoulders.

The boy Elmer and the dragon Boris looked at each other around the tree trunk

Image: Netflix

Tremblay and Matarazzo forge a bond as the resourceful, serious boy and the goofy, hopeful dragon. As is often the case in stories like these, the child and his imaginary companion are two sides of the same coin: maturity and immaturity, closed mind and openness, ego and ego . Naturally, they will help each other overcome their fears, accept the new reality, and move on. It’s the part that seems the most formulaic. But it’s still moving, especially in light of Elmer’s “real” life in the city, and what he’s running away from. What lingers the longest after the credits roll, however, is the social allegory of the island’s animals, who drown not because of ignorance or laziness, but because they cannot understand how to save themselves and are ready to save themselves. willing to put that burden on someone else.

Cartoon Saloon fans will assume this goes without saying, but for those unfamiliar: My Father’s Dragon pretty. It’s 2D animation, illustrated in an economical yet expressive style. It has a cleaner, less obvious hand-drawn interface Wolfwalkers, but Twomey’s keen sense of scale and her striking, simple composition lend a strong emotional geography to the story and an astonishingly epic, catastrophic setting for the action. . This is a director and studio at the forefront of their craft, with the confidence to take a beloved classic and transform it into something bigger – and more profound.

My Father’s Dragon premieres on Netflix on November 11


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