When they first debuted on the animation scene with "The Secret of Kells" back in 2009, Cartoon Saloon has quickly risen to become one of the best animation studios in the world. The Irish studio has delivered big punches with their films filled with some of the richest stories and the very best animation ever put on the silver screen. Their previous film "Wolfwalkers" was an exceptional triumph standing tall as one of the best-animated films I've seen so far this decade and reigniting my love for animation more than ever before. Any film coming off the heels of that film would be challenging, but "My Father's Dragon" is yet more proof of this studio's brilliance. It might be more mainstream than their previous efforts, but that doesn't diminish the punches this film pulls. It's another exceptional animated film from the studio that continues to grow their brilliant catalog.
After moving away from their old town and forcing to close their candy store, a young boy named Elmer Elevator (Jacob Tremblay) and his mother Della (Golshifteh Farahani) move to the city of Nevergreen in the hopes to start anew and hopefully open up a shop by trying to save money. However, this soon goes awry when their money is used to pay rent to their landlord Mrs. McLaren (Rita Moreno) and Elmer soon runs away in anger and fear. When he gets to the docks, he is told by a cat (Whoopi Goldberg) that she heard about a magic dragon on an island far away that could help him. Hoping that this dragon can fix his problems, Elmer sets sails for the strange Wild Island which has been slowly sinking into the sea and is trying to be pulled up by the dragon to save the animals who live there, led by the gorilla Saiwa (Ian McShane). Elmer frees the dragon named Boris (Gaten Matarazzo) who tells him he's trying to become an Alpha Dragon that will help him pull the island out of the sea and together, the two journey across the island hoping to find the answer as Saiwa is hot on their tails trying to get Boris back.
This film is further proof of just what masters Cartoon Saloon is at animated storytelling. Like I said at the beginning, this film is much more mainstream than their previous entries due to its partnership with Netflix and reliance on a major cast, but despite this, it's still a terrific animated film that will go down as being one of my personal favorites so far this year. The film's story was inspired by the children's book of the same name by Ruth Stiles Gannett that was one of my personal favorites growing up and it's a lovely take on the story. There's so much imagination to be found within this story with the animals on the island that Elmer and Boris encounter and the tale of them trying to face their fears that packs a lot of an emotional punch which doesn't surprise me given the film is written by one of the co-writers of "Inside Out". It opens on a fantastic note with Elmer moving to the city which plays out perfectly and you really do feel his struggle and feel his fears with moving to a new place and trying to connect with people. Then once the film gets to Wild Island, it has a lot of fun scenes as Elmer tries to use the knick-knacks in his backpack to distract the animals on the island that are pulled straight from the book. With that said, the film's screenplay does falter a bit after Elmer meets Boris due to some unfunny humor and clunky delivery of exposition, but it quickly recovers by the third act delivering yet another stunning climax and conclusion you would expect from Cartoon Saloon.
That leads me into talking about animation which is easily the biggest highlight of the film. Throughout every film, you can see them step up their craft with their traditional animation that is so visually distinct and this film is no exception. This film looks gorgeous and has some of the most beautiful art direction in all of their films so far. The city of Nevergreen is covered with blue tints to create this dreary atmosphere and as soon as Elmer gets to Wild Island, the colors really start to pop with the gorgeous backgrounds showcasing their variety ranging from the orange fall trees where the tigers are and the pink blossom grass where a rhinoceros and her baby are. It's such a stunning film to watch with cute character designs, paintbrush strokes, and stunning colors. Now let's talk about the characters who are all very fun. Elmer is a very endearing protagonist to who I could relate myself quite a bit. He's a character that wants to be brave and determined but the film does showcase that he's not perfect and his growth by the end with Boris feels earned. Speaking of Boris, I will say that he's also a bit of fun with his playful attitude though he did irritate me just a little bit when I first saw him due to his talkative nature. However, I quickly warmed up to him as the film went along and I felt that he and Elmer just worked together so well, thanks to some great chemistry between Tremblay and Matarazzo. I also admired how the animal characters aren't portrayed as villainous characters, partially Saiwa who initially expected to be similar to Saloon's previous villain, the Lord Protector from "Wolfwalkers". His character isn't really a villain as much as a flawed character and I greatly admired that.
"My Father's Dragon" is another winning animated film from Cartoon Saloon. Its story is filled with tons of imagination and packs some great emotional punches, the animation is stunning once again with some amazing art direction, and the characters are all lovable and fun and feel very well fleshed. This is easily one of the year's finest animated films and I really recommend it. It might be a bit mainstream and not as packed as some of this studio's previous work, but it's a tale that I will be glad to return to for years to come.