My Father’s Dragon, the first animated feature produced for Netflix by Irish animation outfit Cartoon Saloon, landed on the platform worldwide last week, so we decided to see what critics are saying about director Nora Twomey’s (The Breadwinner) latest film.
My Father’s Dragon currently boasts an 87% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes. A terrific score, but the lowest of any Cartoon Saloon feature yet; 2009’s The Secret of Kells sits at 90%, Twomey’s Oscar-nominated The Breadwinner at 95%, and both Wolfwalkers and Song of the Sea are at 99%.
Several critics who have chimed in were frustrated by the film’s shifting tones and a strangeness of plot which sees too-random things happen too often, occasionally ruining the sense of immersion. And, while many singled it out as the least “Cartoon Saloon” feature produced by the Kilkenny studio so far, almost all agreed that there is no lack of charm or artistic merit in the finished product. In fact, almost every review we read was effusive in its praise of the work done by the film’s animation team.
Here’s a look at what the critics had to say:
Amy Nicholson at The New York Times thought the film was a bit uneven but was impressed with the animation:
The film’s mix of tones is as wild as its setting. In one moment, the story insightfully explores the emotional turbulence of characters who feel pressured to pretend that everything is under control even as they suspect they’re hurtling toward catastrophe; in another, an over-caffeinated whale (Judy Greer) squeals “Yaaaaas!” It’s one part doom cloud, one part squirting prank flower — an uneasy balance that’s united only by stunning visuals which sweep the audience along even when the gags stumble.
In his review in the Guardian, Benjamin Lee said:
The strangeness of the plot gives the film the breathless quality of a fever dream, which can feel a little too jolting and scattershot at times, and is made that much more surreal by the parade of unlikely celebrity voices that crop up throughout. As well as the aforementioned, we also get Dianne Wiest as a rhinoceros, Alan Cumming as a crocodile, Jackie Earle Haley as a tarsier, and Leighton Meester as a tiger (it all makes for unintentionally effective stoner viewing). While the plot can often feel repetitive and at its worst shambolic, the inventive storybook-comes-to-life 2D animation keeps us immersed, gliding us through an unusual and thoughtfully structured world.
Guy Lodge at Variety appreciated that these types of films for kids are out there as an alternative to the big studio fare that often gets more attention:
Their first collaboration with Netflix, the studio’s latest — premiering at the London Film Festival, and slated for a global release on November 11 — dials back a little on the latter’s mythic complexity, but at no cost to their usual charm. Expressly targeting very young children, and mellow but never dull in its unhurried telling and picture-book aesthetic, it’s a pleasing corrective to the slick, high-concept freneticism of sundry Disneys and Pixars — even as it pinches screenwriter Meg LeFauve (Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur) from their ranks.
Callie Petch at Little White Lies assuaged any fears that Cartoon Saloon could stray from the things that make it such a unique studio just because they’re working with a mainstream platform:
In this respect, and in the more whimsical tone overall to the picture (there are even a pair of honest-to-God fart jokes), this is the most explicitly child-aimed Cartoon Saloon film yet. The all-star celebrity voice cast and screenplay by Pixar veteran Meg LeFauve, mean it’s tempting to wonder whether the tendrils of their new Netflix distributor have taken hold of such a singular studio. Such fears are misplaced. Director Nora Twomey still displays a strong grasp of restraint in the setpieces, and specific focus on character work above all else that other creators in this field could do with being reminded of.
And David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter said that while this may be a low point in the Cartoon Saloon catalog for adult viewers, kids should love it:
While Cartoon Saloon’s previous features have been distinguished by the folkloric, mythic, and ethnographic foundations of their stories, My Father’s Dragon will feel more generic to adult viewers. But kids should respond warmly to the odyssey of Elmer and Boris as they journey across the island and face their fears, looking for answers to help the dragon find his fire and stop the animals’ home from sinking.
My Father’s Dragon was directed by Nora Twomey from a screenplay by Meg LeFauve, based on the book by Ruth Stiles Gannett.
Producers: Paul Young, Julie Lynn, Bonnie Curtis Executive producer: Tomm Moore