“Too much of a good thing” sounds like an oxymoron but it’s something that can happen. It’s difficult to look at this year’s Best Animated Feature Race for instance and not wonder whether Netflix’s endless supply of movies is not totally working. This year alone they have enough contenders to fill up literally that entire Oscar category all by themselves and all of them come from previous Oscar nominees: Richard Linklater’s nostalgia piece Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, Chris Williams’ animated adventure The Sea Beast, Henry Selick’s horror-comedy Wendell & Wild and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio next month.
Somehow Netflix’s fifth contender, Cartoon Saloon’s My Father’s Dragon (which began streaming this month) has generated little press despite being quite charming, beautiful to look at, and also arriving with a ready made Oscar pedigree…
“My Father’s Dragon” the classic 1948 children’s book from Ruth Stiles Gannett was adapted once before in Japan in the 1990s but now it’s a Cartoon Saloon feature, their first in collaboration with Netflix. It’s about a young boy named Elmer (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) of a single mother (Golshifteh Farahani) who has just moved to the big city where he is lonely, fearful, and insecure about the future. When he runs away from home he encounters a series of talking animals. The voice cast includes not one but three Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winners Dianne Wiest, Rita Moreno, and Whoopi Goldberg and numerous other celebrities. On an adventure to a place called Wild Island he discovers a young dragon held captive by the other animals in order to prevent the island from sinking and everyone from drowning. The dragon (voiced by Gaten Matarazzo) is in a similar emotional state as Elmer. You can guess where it’s going but that’s true of most children’s films (and many adult films come to think of it!) as the boy and the dragon lean on and learn from each other in order to conquer their fears.
My Father’s Dragon may not be on the same magical folklore level as Cartoon Saloon’s three remarkable achievements (Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, Wolfwalkers), and it’s hard to stand out with a talking animal adventure (since that describes most animated films) the way Nora Twomey’s earlier effort The Breadwinner did. But it’s still a satisfying story with beautiful animation that little children will surely love and a Cartoon Saloon feature has never missed a nomination. Films have been nominated in the animated category while offering much less that this one in the way of beauty, heart, and imagination. So where is the buzz?
Is the problem a lack of promotion on Netflix’s part? That it’s pitched a bit younger than the other animated films in the running? That it doesn’t feel like a visual revelation the way the company’s more proudly regional-specific features did? Your theories are welcome. Our guess is it’s all three of those problems. It’s also a crowded year for animated films even if only two films (Pinocchio & Turning Red) to date feel like they have nothing to sweat about as we move towards nominations.