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Western Animation / My Father's Dragon

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My Father's Dragon is an animated film adaptation of the first book of the trilogy of the same name, co-produced by Netflix Animation, Mockingbird Pictures and Cartoon Saloon. It was directed by Nora Twomey, who previously directed The Breadwinner and co-directed The Secret of Kells.

An unseen older woman tells the story of her father, Elmer Elevator, who moved from his small town with his mother to the dreary city of Nevergreen, after their shop was foreclosed. As their financial situation gets in the way of Elmer's dream of reopening the shop, their situation seems hopeless, until a talking cat voiced by Whoopi Goldberg tells Elmer about a real, firebreathing dragon at Wild Island.

With dreams of funding the shop by using the dragon as an attraction, Elmer sets off to Wild Island, but discovers that he was unknowingly put on a rescue mission to save Boris the Dragon from the animals in it. Worse yet, the island itself is also in danger of sinking, and Elmer must help both Boris and the animals find an answer to their predicament.


The movie was released on Netflix on November 11, 2022, and was dedicated to co-writer John Morgan, who passed away before the movie's release.

My Father's Dragon provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: This isn't the first time Ian McShane has voiced an antagonistic white-pelted talking animal. The difference is this one got to repent for his villainy.
  • Adaptational Backstory Change:
    • The movie changes the context of Elmer's journey entirely: he wants to help his mother have enough money to reopen their shop in the city after moving, and the Cat offers him an option as thanks for giving her milk after he runs away from home.
    • In the book, Boris fell out of the sky onto Wild Island, where the animals captured him and forced him to ferry them from one end of the island to the other. In the movie, Boris voluntarily went to Wild Island both to complete a Rite of Passage and to save the island from sinking, but the animals have kept him for much longer than necessary and force him to repeatedly lift up the island whenever it sinks too low into the ocean, and nobody knows how to do it properly to make sure the island stays above the water for a hundred years.
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  • Adaptational Explanation: The movie expands on why Boris left Blueland in the first place before being held captive by the animals of Wild Island; the island holds the only way he can become an After Dragon and obtain his fire breathing.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: The setting of the film seems to suggest that it takes place during The Great Depression. However, the three kids that Elmer tries to befriend at the beginning appear to be wearing more modern clothing. Background dialogue from a paperboy also indicates that it's a recession that hit Elmer's hometown hard.
  • An Aesop: Sometimes the future will be uncertain, and it's okay if you don't have all the immediate answers to your problems right away.
  • Bittersweet Ending: More sweet than bitter. Boris and Elmer save Wild Island...but Boris has to go back to Blueland, meaning that they might never see one another again. Thankfully they still have their friendship whistle, and at the very end of the movie a familiar tune coming from the clouds shows that Boris is still out there.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: Elmer attempts this at the climax, attempting to crush Boris's dreams of becoming an After Dragon out of worry that he'll get hurt if he dives into the island's core. It backfires hugely, leaving Boris heartbroken and angry and blasting Elmer away with his wings.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Elmer's resourcefulness gets him the name "Answer Guy" from Boris, and it's not for nothing. The apparently useless items he collected from his foreclosed shop—a single gumball, a lollipop, broken scissors, a shattered hand mirror—and the tangerines he collected on the way to Wild Island, help them when they need it the most.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After Boris and Elmer find out that Aratuah, the old tortoise who was supposed to tell them how to save the island, is dead, Boris crosses this for a time.
  • Disappeared Dad: We only see Elmer and his mother, while his father is never mentioned. Ditto for Iris and her baby.
  • Disney Death: At first, Boris seems to sacrifice himself to save the island, but he turns up just fine not long after.
  • Failure Hero: Boris's chief worry is that he'll end up like this, because he has no idea what he has to do to save Wild Island, and is also very scared of what he might have to do, to say nothing of how he's worried that none of the dragons back home will ever be proud of him because of his impending failure. Elmer helps him overcome it.
  • False Friend: Elmer starts out as this to Boris, wanting to help him save Wild Island so he can come back and use Boris for a while to get enough money to open a new shop for him and his mother. However, as the movie goes on and their relationship deepens, he and Boris eventually become friends for real.
  • Foreshadowing: While explaining how he is supposed to become an After Dragon, Boris fumbles his explanation of how Wild Island is involved. He tries to say that the island is like a flower and dragons are like bees, only to disregard that explanation. As it turns out, that attempt was more accurate, and the island is a giant flower rooted to the bottom of the ocean whose "pollen" allows dragons to breathe fire.
  • Just Whistle: Boris and Elmer come up with a "friendship whistle" that they can both use whenever the other needs them, which gets used a few times as they both make sure the other is okay. When Boris and Elmer say goodbye to each other, they tell one another to whistle if they ever need them. We also see it at the very end of the movie, where a familiar whistle in the clouds above Nevergreen City lets the audience know that Boris is still out there.
  • Keet: Boris is a very happy-go-lucky, giggly, playful, chatty young dragon, enough that when he hits the Despair Event Horizon late in the movie it is a very noticeable change.
  • Leitmotif: The same tune that Boris and Elmer's friendship whistle carries is used multiple times in the soundtrack for bonding moments between them, and is even used as the melody in the credits song.
  • Meaningful Name: Nevergreen City. It's dark, dreary, rainy, and there's not a tree to be seen.
  • Motivational Lie: Elmer's mother lies to him about being able to open up a new store in order to get him to be more comfortable in their new home, though it quickly unravels as the stress piles up. Elmer later is forced to do the same thing to the Wild Island inhabitants after he discovers Aratuah is dead, and he lies about having spoken to the tortoise to keep the animals' spirits up.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Cornelius presents himself quite menacingly, but he's also quite comedic with how unable he is to control his family. That, and he isn't really a bad guy.
  • Older Than They Look: Boris in dragon years is technically no older than Elmer, and also acts very childish and immature. He's also a hundred years old, as every dragon "year" is equivalent to ten human years.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Boris (and supposedly his family) are striped dragons with tiny wings, that glow when they are about to take flight. They also age the equivalent of one human year every 10 years. To breathe fire, they also need to go through the process of becoming an After Dragon, by absorbing Wild Island's core, which threatens to sink every 100 years.
  • Poor Communication Kills: As Boris points out, if the island’s inhabitants make a record of what he did to save the island, the next dragon will know what to do, and won’t go through the capture process he did.
  • Rite of Passage: The reason Boris stays on Wild Island is because of this; every hundred years, a young dragon must go to Wild Island to prevent it from sinking into the ocean, after which the dragon will become an "After Dragon" and gain the power of breathing fire. Unfortunately, Boris has been kept on the island for much longer than normal, with the animals forcing him to pull the island out of the sea whenever it sinks too low, and he still hasn't gotten his fire yet. Towards the end of the film, he finally figures out how to complete the rite of passage and save the island; jump into the center of the island and absorb its core.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Early in the movie, Boris talks about how his brother Horatio told an old tortoise named Aratuah how to save the island so that the next one could ask him. However, dragons only come to Wild Island every 100 years, and he was mentioned to be old by the time Horatio came. By the time that it's Boris's turn to raise the island, it turns out that Aratuah has died from natural causes, leaving them lost on how to actually save the island.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Saiwa and the other animals don't have any ill will towards Boris or Elmer, but their island under threat of sinking, and Boris' failure to enter the island's core out of fear, leads them to force Boris to lift it up repeatedly. With their home threatened, they take more and more extreme measures to capture Boris again, threatening Elmer if necessary.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Multiple different characters get called out for their lies and behavior at the climax. Saiwa is called out by Kwan for not having a solution to the island sinking, Elmer is called out by Boris for not believing in him, and then Elmer is called out by Saiwa for tricking Boris into thinking Elmer was his friend by taking advantage of his fear and naivete.
  • Wrong Assumption: Elmer believes he's had an epiphany about what causes Wild Island to sink - the roots he used to climb on the first place. However, not knowing the island is one giant plant, he almost destroys the island by getting Boris to rip off all roots but one, until the latter sees the island's core and realizes the real answer.