A favorite children’s novel turns into a charming animation in the film “My Father’s Dragon”, which will have its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival. Oscar-nominated director Nora Toomey (“The Breadwinner”) tells the story of childhood friendship based on the 1948 novel by Ruth Stiles Gannett, with animation from Cartoon Saloon (“The Kell Mystery”, “Song of the Sea”, “Wolf Walkers”) and a script by Meg LeFov. (Inside out). It’s a cute adventure that will appeal to young children, and a stellar cast, including Jacob Tremblay as the hero Elmer and — in one of the funniest moments of the film — Whoopi Goldberg as a cat.
In the first scenes, the narrator (Mary Kay Place) introduces his father Elmer, who had a magical experience some time ago. We meet Elmer when his mother (Golshifteh Farahani) runs a modest but successful retail business, involving her son in the daily work of the store. When difficult times come for them, they are forced to move into a dubious city apartment owned by a serious landlord, Mrs. McLaren (funny Rita Moreno). She demands rent every Tuesday, has listened to all the tearful stories from the book and thinks that pets are even worse than children. But a stray cat leads Elmer to a whole new world, a Wild Island, where he meets a young dragon named Boris (Gaten Matarazzo) and tries to evade a treacherous gorilla named Saiva (Ian McShane).
The relationship between Elmer and Boris forms the emotional basis of the film, as Elmer struggles with the prospect that dragons are not always exactly the same as the fire-breathing ones from fairy tale books, and uses his mind to get them out of trouble. It’s a sweet bond that comes alive when the couple meets other characters, such as the kind rhino (Dianne Wiest) and her baby. Other characters are voiced by actors such as Chris O’Dowd, Judy Greer, Alan Cumming, Leighton Mister, Adam Brody and Charlene Yee.
As in many family stories, the fantasy adventure has characters that echo Elmer’s real life, and there are also parallels with anime films (there is a 1997 Japanese animation based on the same novel). But this Netflix release has its own special style, and it should entertain young people who, like Elmer, are looking for adventures and trying to figure out the adult world.