‘My Father’s Dragon’ Review: Classic children’s book gets a sweet retelling – Hollywood Reporter | Dauktion

Ruth Stiles Gannett’s 1948 children’s fantasy novel Newbery Honor, My father’s dragon, gets the cartoon saloon treatment in Nora Twomey’s lovingly handcrafted feature film adaptation. Brought to life by stellar voices directed by Jacob Tremblay and Gaten Matarazzo as a 10-year-old boy named Elmer and Boris the dragon, with whom he discovers the rewards of friendship and bravery respectively, the film takes its visual inspiration straight after the Original illustrations by the author’s stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett. It lacks the cultural specificity of Ireland’s boutique animation best work, such as wolfwalker and song of the seabut its retro 2D beauty and vivid storytelling should delight younger audiences.

World premiere at the London Film Festival ahead of the Netflix film adaptation on November 11th. This is the second feature film based on Gannett’s beloved book, following the 1997 Japanese version by Masami Hata. It’s a step into more normal children’s adventure territory for director Twomey after 2017 the breadwinner, about an 11-year-old Afghan girl coming of age under Taliban rule. But thematically, the focus overlaps on youthful protagonists who find escape from hardship but also dangers in life in fantastic stories while trying to take responsibility for their families’ difficulties.

My father’s dragon

The final result

A film of gentle but entrancing pleasures.

Venue: BFI London Film Festival (Family)
release date: Friday 11 November
Pour: Jacob Tremblay, Gaten Matarazzo, Golshifteh Farahani, Dianne Wiest, Rita Moreno, Chris O’Dowd, Judy Greer, Alan Cumming, Yara Shahidi, Jackie Earle Haley, Mary Kay Place, Leighton Meester, Spence Moore II, Whoopi Goldberg, Ian McShane
director: Nora Twomey
screenwriters: Meg LeFauve; Story by LeFauve and John Morgan inspired by Ruth Stiles Gannett’s children’s book

Rated PG, 1 hour 42 minutes

Screenplay by Meg LeFauve (from the inside to the outside) is “inspired” by Gannett. Elmer and the dragon trilogy rather than a fully faithful translation, although it sticks to the original model by telling the story by an unseen narrator (Mary Kay Place) who remembers events from her father’s life decades earlier.

It begins in a happy time when Elmer helps his mother Dela (Golshifteh Farahani) in her busy small town grocery store; His ability to find things makes him invaluable when it comes to filling customer orders quickly. But those prosperous times prove short-lived, and when the recession hits, they lose business to foreclosure.

His mother tries to reassure Elmer that everything will be fine as they set off on a fresh start in town, and he gathers what few items are left on the shelves in his backpack – a pair of scissors, one Strawberry lollipops, a stick of chewing gum, a box of gum bands – to stock up when they open a new store. These random inventory pieces will come in handy when he soon finds himself on a dangerous adventure in a strange, untamed place where no child has ever been.

Twomey and her animators bring eloquent melancholy tones as mother and son drive through the pouring rain on lonely roads to a murky destination called Nevergreen City. This move evokes the tales of the Great Depression, reinforced by the soulful strings of composer siblings Jeff and Mychael Danna’s score. Renting a walk-in loft with poor plumbing from grumpy landlady Mrs. McClaren (Rita Moreno), Dela keeps getting frustrating calls about vacancies. As she reminds Elmer that it’s her job to worry, not his, the boy sees the false optimism behind her promise of a new store.

After an argument as a street cat follows him home, Elmer runs off — in one of the film’s most visually striking sequences — through the densely populated city, with its clouds of industrial smoke, ominous shadows, and walls that seem to be closing in on him until he reaches the docks. The cat then surprises him by revealing that she can talk (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg).

In return for Elmer’s kindness, the cat tells him about an “amazing, spectacular, living, flying, fire-breathing dragon” at a place called Wild Island and takes him on a ride on the back of a giggling whale named Soda (Judy Greiner). Elmer believes he can turn the dragon into a money-making attraction to lighten his mother’s burden and fund the new shop.

Most of the story takes place on Wild Island, which is sinking into the ocean, a story embellishment that gives Elmer in his adventure an instability that matches his reality in Nevergreen. The island is only held above sea level by the efforts of the dragon Boris, who is being held captive by the silverback gorilla Saiwa (Ian McShane), the patriarch of the island’s animal population.

When Elmer uses his scissors to sever the vines binding Boris to the crater at the heart of the island, the two become fast friends. But Boris doesn’t turn out to be quite the “amazing, spectacular, real, flying, fire-breathing dragon” described by the cat. He’s a kid, much like Elmer, and his injured wing makes elevating the clumsy oaf to full-fledged “post-dragon” powers even more of a challenge than his self-doubt. His fear of fire and large bodies of water doesn’t help either.

While previous Cartoon Saloon features were characterized by the folkloric, mythical and ethnographic underpinnings of their stories, My father’s dragon will feel more generic for adult viewers. But children should respond warmly to Elmer and Boris’ odyssey as they journey across the island facing their fears and seeking answers to help the dragon find his fire and prevent the animals’ home from perishing.

The breezy relationship built in the dialogue between Tremblay and Matarazzo is just as important to the appeal as the cute character designs. Elmer has a hint of the saucer-eyed anime boy about him, while Boris looks like a stuffed green and yellow striped sock, with red spikes running down the back of his long neck. Their touching friendship is strengthened by the symbiosis of the smart, imaginative and determined Elmer, who acknowledges he didn’t always figure it all out, while the insecure Boris learns to trust his instincts. It’s less a classic hero’s journey than an experience of mutual growth, an exchange given additional tenderness by the Danna Brothers’ pretty pipe theme.

The solid voice work and charming character concepts extend to the many animals – friends and foes – they encounter, with echoes of imagery ranging from Miyazaki to Maurice Sendak. Wild creatures include mother rhino Iris (Dianne Wiest), snooty crocodile Cornelius (Alan Cumming), fierce tiger siblings Sasha and George (Leighton Meester and Spence Moore II), alarming tarsier Tamir (Jackie Earle Haley) and disgruntled macaque Kwan (Chris O’Dowd), who resents Saiwa’s leadership.

The book’s episodic nature carries over to a certain extent to the reimagined screenplay, which isn’t always as fluid in its transitions or as clean in its storylines as it could be. But the deep fondness for the source material comes through and the painterly hand-drawing aesthetic is adorable. A dream sequence that reconnects Elmer with his home and mother is particularly beautiful, its monochromatic tones contrasting with the vibrant colors of Wild Island.

Leave a Comment