My Father’s Dragon from Netflix turns a weird book into a great movie

This review was published in conjunction with the film’s premiere at the 2022 BFI London Film Festival. dad’s dragon It will debut on Netflix in November.

dad’s dragon It is one of those classic children’s books that seems to come straight from the subconscious. For kids, it’s probably comforting and surprising, but if you come to it as an adult – as I did recently, reading it to my 5-year-old after a friend gave us a copy – it feels very strange. (Actually, my kid thought it was weird, too.) Written by Ruth Stills Janet in 1948, it tells the story of a young boy who escapes after a feud with his mother to Wild Island, where he must outrun some tragic talking animals to save the tiny candy-striped dragon they enslaved.

The new Netflix animated movie has been adapted by the major Irish studio Cartoon Saloon (sea ​​songAnd the Wolfwalkers), retains the top-level plot summary, some characters, and the indelible design of Boris the dragon (as described by the author’s stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Janet). Boris is stocky and puppy, blue and yellow striped, with floppy ears and small golden wings. Apart from that, the movie ignores just about everything. Directed by Nora Tomeithe familyAnd the Kiehl’s Secret) and screenwriter Meg LeFauve (Pixar’s .) inside outsideThey reconstructed Janet’s fragmented and surreal little tale into something a lot like a traditionally curated children’s movie, but they also made it more exciting and resonant. It’s a beautiful movie.

In this version, the boy, Elmer (Jacob Tremblay) – who, we understand, grows up to be the father of the invisible elderly narrator (Mary Kay Bliss) – lives a happy life in a small town with his only mother (Golshifteh Farahani), who runs a thriving neighborhood store where Everyone’s needs are taken care of. Then the hard times come. (Twomey makes the transition apparent by falling brilliant tangerines from an overflow chest to the ground, where they roll and vaporize—a wonderful, eloquent gesture.) The boy and mother move into a rundown boarding house in a bustling industrial city, as they struggle to adapt to their impoverished, rootless new conditions. to her. After Elmer’s mother chases a cat down an alley he takes him, running after her, into the bowels of the city. He passes through a narrow rift, emerges in a fictional new reality where the cat (with Whoopi Goldberg’s mischievous purr) talks and leads him into an adventure on the back of an excited little whale.

Elmer the boy and Boris the Dragon walk through an autumnal forest where pairs of eyes are watching them

Photo: Netflix

This new framework grounds the story in a psychological reality that writers have never had before, while honoring the rise of mid-century America. Twomey and LeFauve’s extended ideas don’t stop there. In the book, the Wild Island’s animals are sterile and lazy, and when the dragon falls from the sky, they catch him and make him work as an air taxi, flying them across a river that they can’t be bothered to swim across. or walk around. Wild Island in the movie is a much more complex, metaphorical, and morally contradictory setting.

This island, dome-shaped and forbidden, is constantly plunging into the sea. Desperate for survival, her animals capture Boris (Gatien Matarazzo) because he is strong enough, when harnessed to the rock of the island itself, to pull an entire area of ​​land out of the water. The more he pulls, the more he sinks, but Saiwa the gorilla (Ian McShane), the reliable and adorable animal leader, but weak-minded, is talkative of other ideas. There are mysteries, too: a large cave of pristine white fire at the top of the island, the legend of a turtle who knows everything somewhere in its heart, and primitive hieroglyphs for the post-fire-breathing dragon Boris longs to be. The dragon and the island seem to have something to do with each other, but what?

Unlike the book, which preserves the meeting between the boy and the dragon to the end, Twomey and LeFauve waste no time bringing them together. Elmer and Boris explore the island together, encountering a trapped unicorn with its baby, a camped and cuddled crocodile, some wild and adorably cuddly tigers, and a group of angry globular hamsters. Animals are played for laughter and pity by a star-studded cast that includes treasures like Dianne Wiest, Judy Greer, Chris O’Dowd and Alan Cumming. McShane, his wonderfully rich voice peppered with anger and anxiety, steals the scene like a gorilla carrying the weight of the entire island on his shoulders.

Elmer the boy and Boris the Dragon look at each other around a tree trunk

Photo: Netflix

Forge a bond between Tremblay and Matarazzo as the resourceful and earnest boy and the optimistic foolish dragon. As is often the case in stories like this, the child and his imaginary companion are two sides of the same coin: mature and immature, open-minded and open-hearted, ego and id. Naturally, they will help each other overcome fears, accept new realities, and move forward. This is the part of the movie that seems the most complicated. But it’s still poignant, especially in the context of Elmer’s “real” life in the city, and what he’s escaping from there. However, what remains longer after the credits have passed is the social symbol of the island’s animals, who are drowning not out of ignorance or laziness, but because they cannot understand how to save themselves and are willing to pay that burden to someone else.

Cartoon Saloon fans will assume this is counterintuitive, but for starters: dad’s dragon Nice. It’s a 2D animation, illustrated in an economical but expressive style. It has a cleaner, less visible look than hand-painted than Untamed Wolfwalkers, but Tommy’s great sense of scale and her simple yet striking combinations create a powerful emotional geography of the story, and a surprisingly epic and disastrous palette of action. This is a director and studio at the forefront of their craft, with the confidence to take a beloved classic and turn it into something bigger – and deeper.

dad’s dragon It premieres on Netflix on November 11.

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