After his mother's store closes and they move to Nevergreen City, Elmer (Jacob Tremblay) runs away after an argument with his mother. Arriving at the docks, he discovers a talking cat (Whoopi Goldberg) who tells him of Wild Island where a dragon (Jacob Tremblay) lives and can help him with his problems. However, Elmer arrives on Wild Island, the inhabitants are in peril as the island is sinking and only the dragon can help them...
Although this is Cartoon Saloon's first production with Netflix, adapted from an existing children's book, and with a script by Disney veteran Meg LaFauvre of 'Inside Out' fame, 'My Father's Dragon' very much feels in keeping with the animation studio's ethos and style. There's the offbeat sense of humour, the clear storytelling, and of course, the gorgeous and lucid animation that brings it all together. More than that, 'My Father's Dragon' also benefits from a strong and varied cast.
Jacob Tremblay and Gaten Matarazzo as the two titular characters have an incredibly vibrant dynamic together. Matarazzo's indecision links up with Tremblay's dogged determination, playing easily off one another and capturing that sense of childhood friendship sparking up instantaneously. Chris O'Dowd's high-strung anxiety as Kwan dovetails with Ian McShane's calm baritones. Dianne Wiest has a sweet turn as a mother rhinoceros trying to defend her child, while Judy Greer is equally saccharine as a fast-talking whale that transports Elmer to the island. All of the voices feel alive and real, detached though they are from their characters. You really get the sense that the imagination is filling in the edges of these characters, much as it would for a child.
That's always been Cartoon Saloon's secret strength; its ability to meet the children's view directly rather than look down or up at it. In the same way that 'Wolfwalkers' presented its protagonists with rich complexities and depth, 'My Father's Dragon' does the same here. As you'd expect, the animation is equally rich and clever, with the deceptively simple storybook shapes coming to life with grace and fluidity and dancing across the screen with ease.
Unlike its other efforts, 'My Father's Dragon' does feel a little bit less revolutionary and more conventional. 'Song of the Sea' and 'The Secret of Kells' unearthed Irish mythology, 'Wolfwakers' even went so far as to grasp at our dark colonial past. 'The Breadwinner' followed an Afghani girl trying to survive under the Taliban by going out dressed as a boy to evade capture and torment. Here, the stakes are definitely lower, but Meg LeFauve's script tries to make it as meaningful and real as it can. Ultimately, 'My Father's Dragon' turns itself into a soulful journey towards resilience and acceptance, powered by friendship and imagination.