More suited for a younger audience than Twomey’s excellent and Oscar-nominated directorial debut “The Breadwinner,” about an 11-year-old girl in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, “My Father’s Dragon” wrestles with the ways in which fear paralyzes or propels us. A whimsical creature terrified of their home disappearing; a parent losing their temper in the face of uncertainty; a child feeling momentarily powerless—everyone experiences fear with similar acuteness. But it’s in how they choose to react that fear can become a vehicle for growth.
Leaving behind their once successful store in a tight-knit community, a kindhearted boy named Elmer (Jacob Tremblay) and his caring mother Dela (Golshifteh Farahani) move to a dense urban locale known as Nevergreen. In the unfamiliar environment, Elmer believes Dela’s promise that they’ll soon own another establishment. Their everyday lives will resume their course. Yet as the pressures of life mount around her, that goal seems rather distant.
As a reward for his kindness amid the domestic turmoil, a talking cat guides Elmer to the colorful Wild Island to free the still-not-fully-developed dragon Boris (Gaten Matarazzo) from Saiwa (Ian McShane), the leader of all the fauna who uses him to prevent their floating home from sinking. Designed for maximum cuteness, the animals here look and behave with the charm natural to fairytales: a pack of smiling tigers have heads larger than their bodies, and there’s also an anxiety-ridden lemur, a mother rhino and her offspring, and some cotton-like pikas.
Liberated from his forced duties, Boris explains he wishes to become an “after-dragon,” an evolved version of himself with the ability to spit fire. He needs the boy’s help to decipher how to reach his full potential. In exchange, Elmer wants his new fantastical mate to come back with him to Nevergreen for a few days to attract attention for him and his mother’s potential new business. The fluffy islanders, however, need them both to save Wild Island.
The vegetation in this realm often appears in red and pink tones, like a conscious decision taken to contrast the beautifully textured backgrounds and Boris’ yellow and green striped skin. Boris’ skin is the most directly faithful visual element from the original illustrations published more than 70 years ago.