My Father's Dragon

USA-Ireland 2022, 99 mins
Director: Nora Twomey

Ever since the surprise Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination for their debut film, The Secret of Kells (2009), Irish studio Cartoon Saloon has enjoyed a blossoming international reputation among festival programmers, award voters and animation-hungry audiences alike. But Kells’ two co-directors have walked distinct creative paths since their first success. Tomm Moore has delved deeper into Irish mythology with Song of the Sea (2014) and WolfWalkers (2020), while Nora Twomey has looked further afield for inspiration: to Taliban-era Afghanistan for The Breadwinner (2017), and now to the US for My Father’s Dragon.

It is also, notably, the studio’s first feature collaboration with Netflix, which might go some way to explaining some of its more pronounced shifts from what has come before.

Loosely adapted from Ruth Stiles Gannett’s 1948 novel by Meg LeFauve, who also scripted Pixar’s Inside Out (2015) and its forthcoming sequel, the film sports a cast of Hollywood-grade voice talent, led by Jacob Tremblay (Room, 2015; Doctor Sleep, 2019) as our hero Elmer, and Gaten Matarazzo (Stranger Things, 2016-) as Boris, the cuddly, green-and-yellow-striped young dragon Elmer befriends and helps escape from the perilous Wild Island.

Unlike the formal innovations of WolfWalkers, which contrasted sharp-edged designs for its British colonial characters with free-flowing pencil-sketch linework for the Celtic upstarts, My Father’s Dragon adopts a clean, colourful storybook approach that befits its skew towards younger audiences. But the film isn’t unsophisticated: for every armpit fart joke demanded by its buddy-movie stylings, there are shades of complexity one would struggle to find in major studio animated fare. The design of the film’s ostensible antagonists – the creatures of Wild Island who have imprisoned Boris – strikes an intriguing balance between charming and chilling. These creatures also have concerns of their own, something best expressed in a nerve-rattling scene featuring a snap-happy crocodile (voiced by Alan Cumming), who juggles terrorising Elmer with caring for several tiny hatchlings, all vying for his attention. A working parent, even in this fantasy land.

Responsibility is the theme, and the film takes care to give weight to its tweenage protagonist’s plight. Elmer is eager to be an adult, but has some way to go. His growing confidence in himself and the world around him gives him the false burden of having to solve everyone’s problems, from his mother’s financial woes to Boris’s anxieties about growing into a mature ‘after-dragon’. My Father’s Dragon directly addresses that impulse, and attempts to reassure its viewers, young and old, that it’s OK to not have all the answers.
Michael Leader, Sight and Sound, Winter 2022-23

Directed by: Nora Twomey
©: Netflix
A Mockingbird Pictures, Cartoon Saloon production
Presented by: Netflix
Executive Producers: Meg LeFauve, John Morgan, Tomm Moore, Gerry Shirren, Ruth Coady, Alan Moloney
Produced by: Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn, Paul Young
Line Producer: Zahra Dowlatabadi
Casting: Amy Lippens
Written by: Meg LeFauve
Based on the story by: Meg LeFauve, John Morgan
Inspired by the children’s book by: Ruth Stiles Gannett
Head of Story: Giovanna Ferrari
Visual Effects Designer: Narissa Schander
Animation Director: Giovanna Ferrari
Animation Supervisors: Andrzej Radka, Svend Andreas Rothmann Bonde
Layout Supervisors: Léo Weiss, Antonio Yardanova Gancheva
Background Supervisor: Eduardo de Lima Damasceno
Editing by: Richie Cody, Darren Holmes
Production Designer: Rosa Ballester-Cabo
Art Director: Áine McGuiness
Character Design & Model Sheets Supervisor: Sandra Norup Anderson
Music by: The Danna Brothers
Re-recording Mixers: Justin M. Davey, Zach Seivers
Supervising Sound Editors: Justin M. Davey, Zach Seivers

Voice Cast
Jacob Tremblay (Elmer)
Gaten Matarazzo (Boris)
Golshifteh Farahani (mom)
Dianne Wiest (Iris)
Rita Moreno (Mrs McClaren)
Chris O’Dowd (Kwan)
Judy Greer (Soda)
Alan Cumming (Cornelius)
Yara Shahidi (Callie)
Jackie Earle Haley (Tamir)
Mary Kay Place (narrator)
Leighton Meester (Sasha)
Spence Moore II (George)
Adam Brody (Bob)
Charlyne Yi (Magda)
Jack S.A. Smith (Eugene)
Maggie Lincoln (Gertie)
Whoopi Goldberg (cat)
Ian McShane (Saiwa)

USA-Ireland 2022©
99 mins

The Secret of Kells
Sat 6 Jan 12:10
Song of the Sea
Sat 13 Jan 12:00
The Short Films of Cartoon Saloon + Q&A with Cartoon Saloon’s Nora Twomey, Tomm Moore and Paul Young
Sat 20 Jan 11:30
The Breadwinner + Q&A with Nora Twomey
Sat 20 Jan 14:10
Wolfwalkers + Q&A with director Tomm Moore
Sat 21 Jan 12:15
My Father’s Dragon
Sat 27 Jan 12:00
Funday Workshop: Puffin Rock and the New Friends
Sun 28 Jan 10:30
Funday: Puffin Rock and the New Friends
Sun 28 Jan 11:45

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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