Quietly emerging over the last decade, the Irish animation house Cartoon Saloon continues to showcase hand-drawn works. After breaking onto the scene with The Secret of Kells, the studio has continued to surprise with success after success. The animation team has never missed an Oscar nomination and scored several critical successes. The studio’s most recent film, My Father’s Dragon, debuts on Netflix this weekend. Based on the acclaimed story, Cartoon Saloon keeps its incredible streak going with the emotionally resonant story. Fantasy and gorgeous animation make great bedfellows, making My Father’s Dragon one of the great animated films of the year.
A young boy, Elmer (Jacob Tremblay) and his mother (Golshifteh Farahani) run a grocery store in the country. However, when business drops off, they have to move to the city. As the two begin to fight, Elmer helps a cat (Whoopi Goldberg) that sends him on an adventure to Wild Island. Once there, Elmer meets a dragon named Boris (Gaten Matarazzo). Elmer sees Boris as his opportunity to make some money for his mother, and the two search for a way to save the island while running from Saiwa the Gorilla (Ian McShane).
Academy Award-nominated director Nora Twomey returns to the director’s chair as one of Cartoon Saloon’s most popular directors. Twomey’s previous films, The Secret of Kells and The Breadwinner, showcased intense storytelling and beautiful visuals. Working off a screenplay from Pixar alum Meg LeFauve, Twomey handles the delicate emotional nuance. After all, this is not just a story about a boy finding a dragon and riding off into the sunset. It is about finding the courage in oneself, and when to become an ally in someone else’s struggle. In many ways, My Father’s Dragon succeeds as a rebuttal to “main character syndrome,” as our protagonist takes a step back to see the full picture of his life.
Tremblay once again proves a dynamic voice performer. After his excellent work in Luca last year, one would assume that Tremblay would leave animation for some time. However, he imbues Elmer with confidence and strength far beyond his years. In many ways, it’s not he opposite of Luca, proving Tremblay has more nuance as a vocal performer than one might expect.
Additionally, the surrounding cast plays expertly into their roles. Matarazzo has begun to branch out from Stranger Things, but his goofy charisma helps us connect to Boris instantly. Judy Greer and Dianne Wiest provide soft, empathetic characters to screen. This becomes a necessary piece to Elmer and Boris’ journey. Finally, the incomparable Ian McShane delivers the gravitas and power of a leader, becoming a pseudo-antagonist with understandable motivations.
It would also be impossible to ignore the gorgeous animation on display. Once again, Cartoon Saloon delivers a blend of visually dynamic backgrounds and soft character designs. They refuse to strive for realism, instead leaning into their unique character designs. This style helps create a light, other-worldly experience that is both gorgeous to look at, and allows for spectacle only possible in animation. While the visuals do not quite reach the heights of Wolfwalkers, the works comes to life with vivid color combinations.
Emotionally rich, My Father’s Dragon undeniably takes a seat as one of the best animated films of the year. Cartoon Saloon continues its hot streak, and Netflix should double down on the collaboration. While a tad long and not quite as visually stunning as it’s previous film, there’s little doubt that Cartoon Saloon is among the best animation houses working today.