Cartoon Saloon’s Nora Twomey adapts this charming animated adaptation of the 1948 children’s book

My Father's Dragon

Source: London Film Festival

‘My Father’s Dragon’

Dir: Nora Twomey. Ireland. 2022. 99mins

This is the second film adaptation of the 1948 children’s book by Ruth Stiles Gannett; the first was a 1997 Japanese animation directed by Masami Hata. This version of the adventures of a small boy on an island threatened by rising sea levels harnesses the dual talents of director Nora Twomey (The Breadwinner) and screenwriter Meg LeFauve (Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur) to appealing effect. While the picture might not have the concentrated magic and focused world-building of Cartoon Saloon’s most recent picture, Wolfwalkers, it is a warm, engrossing fantasy which should charm younger audiences (and their parents) when it launches on Netflix next month.

Despite the fact that the source material is over 70 yeas old, its themes have a contemporary resonance

A resourceful little boy named Elmer (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is tipped off by a well-informed talking cat of the presence of a dragon on the island. But his plann to capture the beast as a money-spinner who will lift him and his mother out of penury is skewered when he realises that what is actually required is a rescue operation – both for Boris (Gaten Matarazzo), the imprisoned baby dragon, and for the island itself. Despite the fact that the source material is over 70 yeas old, its themes – in its gentle way, it is both an eco-parable and a study of economic hardship – have a contemporary resonance.

Connoisseurs of illustrated children’s books will no doubt spot influences beyond that of the original source material. Elmer and his mother’s (Golshifteh Farahani) financial hardship means that they lose their small town neighbourhood shop and have to move to the sprawling metropolis, Nevergreen City. There’s a hint of the graphic style of Shaun Tan’s classic ’The Lost Thing’ in the overbearing urban angles. But the main body of the story – Elmer’s journey to the island courtesy of a whale called Soda (who seems to be in the throes of a manic episode) – has much in common both thematically and stylistically with Julia Donaldson’s ’Jack And The Flumflum Tree’. Through all this, the distinctive earthily, organic quality which gives Cartoon Saloon productions their characteristic appeal is also very much in evidence. 

There’s a symbiotic relationship between Wild Island – a capricious body of land shaped like a giant water lily which periodically sinks into the ocean – and the dragons: immature dragons arrive just at the point when the island about to sink and perform a ritual which both saves the land, and allows them to grow to maturity into an “after dragon”.

The problem is that Boris has no idea what he is supposed to do. And, desperate, the animals of the island have enslaved him within a harness so that he can lift the island every time it starts to sink. Elmer’s well-meaning attempt to save Boris has a potentially devastating impact on the apes, crocodiles and small marsupials of the island. Natural balance, the film argues, is a precarious and fragile thing. And sometimes survival depends on selfless acts for the greater good.

Production company: Cartoon Saloon, Mockingbird Pictures, Netflix Animation

Contact: Netflix

Producers: Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn, Paul Young

Screenplay: Meg LeFauve, from a book by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Editing: Richie Cody, Darren Holmes

Production Designer: Rosa Ballester-Cabo

Animation Director: Giovanna Ferrari

Music: Jeff Danna, Mychael Danna

Main voice cast: 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, Adam Brody, Charlyne Yi, Maggie Lincoln, Jack Smith, Whoopi Goldberg, Ian McShane