My Father's Dragon: Cartoon Saloon, tigers, animation and Irish dancing - SciFiNow

My Father’s Dragon: Cartoon Saloon, tigers, animation and Irish dancing

We speak to Gaten Matarazzo, Jacob Tremblay, and Nora Twomey about why Irish dancing helped to create Cartoon Saloon’s latest heartwarming animation.

my father's dragon

From Cartoon Saloon, the studio that brought us Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers comes a brand new heartwarming animation on Netflix with My Father’s Dragon.

Inspired by the Newbery honored book of the same title by Ruth Stiles Gannett, My Father’s Dragon follows Elmer who, after struggling to cope after a move to the city with his mother, runs away in search of Wild Island and a young dragon who waits to be rescued. Elmer’s adventures introduce him to ferocious beasts, a mysterious island and the friendship of a lifetime.

We spoke to My Father’s Dragon’s director (and Cartoon Saloon co-founder) Nora Twomey and stars Gaten Matarazzo (Stranger Things) and Jacob Tremblay (Room) to find out more…

Nora, how does My Father’s Dragon fit in with Cartoon Saloon’s other movies?

Nora Twomey: I guess My Father’s Dragon is layered in a way that we love to layer storytelling. So there are lots of real-world problems in there. But there’s also a really big fantastical element where you have wild animals and dragons and a boy trying to navigate that whole incredible island as it sinks.

What sort of stories does Cartoon Saloon look for when picking a project?

my father's dragon
Cartoon Saloon look for stories that really captivate them.

Nora Twomey: So for me with My Father’s Dragon, in the book that it’s inspired by, there was a particular page where Elmer’s mum gets angry with him because he gives a saucer of milk to a cat and for me that really sparked my imagination and made me believe that I could bring something to this film because I’ve both been a child who looked into the eyes of my parents and realised they weren’t telling me the whole truth. Then I’ve also as a mother done the same!


Is My Father’s Dragon a direct adaptation or has the movie been inspired by it?

Nora Twomey: It’s inspired by. I did travel to the author Ruth Stiles Gannett. She lives in Trumansburg in this beautiful yellow house in upstate New York. She’s 99 now and at the beginning of the project, I went to visit her just to see what it is about the book that she felt was most important and what was it about the characters that she felt were most important.

She really felt that Elmer and Boris both thought for themselves. That they weren’t just believing what others told them. They really did try and find out the truth and no matter what that cost them.

So that was something that she felt was really important. So that is something that we kept going and everybody really bought into and worked within the film. I think that was quite important.

Gaten, you play Boris the dragon in the movie. What can you tell us about him?

Gaten Matarazzo: Boris is one who is very much excited and delighted by the little things in life and the things around him. He has an appreciation for the people around him because I don’t think he usually gets to interact with a lot of people. So when he gets the chance, he finds that very, very exciting, especially when it comes to Elmer because I think he looks up to Elmer in a really, really fun way.

It’s interesting when you have a character that’s lived 100 years, so there’s a lot of baggage there. There’s a lot that he carries, but he still has the youth and mind and heart of a 10-year-old boy. So he can look at Elmer and see a peer and even a bit of a brother figure in him. That’s exciting to him as that’s something he’s never really felt he’s had before and it drives him forward. It provides him so much life. Life that he had never really felt before. It’s wonderful to see that grow and it would be impossible without Jacob to really find that.

Jacob, how would you describe your character of Elmer?

my father's dragon
Elmer (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is very ambitious…

Jacob Tremblay: Elmer is a very ambitious kid. And I love that. He’s so brave. But at the same time, he does have real emotions. I think what he learns through the movie is that with that bravery he can overcome his fears and also bring Boris up with him.

How would you describe the relationship between Boris and Elmer?

Jacob Tremblay: What I love about it so much is that they’re so different and yet so similar in the same way. I think they complement each other well.

Were you both able to record your voiceovers for the movie together?

Gaten Matarazzo: It’s very fun to get to talk about because we get to brag about it a lot as we actually got to record all of our stuff together which was just wonderful. Well, most of my stuff. You have wonderful work that you get to do with some of the rest of the cast, which is awesome. But all of my stuff that I got to do, I got to do with Jacob, which isn’t common. I think that was your idea though [Nora]…?

Nora Twomey: Well, there was a definite magic with you guys together. So I just had to sit back as a director and just let you do your work. Just having such fun. I remember in particular you had your headphones on and you could hear each other’s mouth clicks with the headphones.

Gaten Matarazzo: Oh wow that’s right! I have such great memories. You could make me giggle for no reason, which is something that I think they would do too – Elmer and Boris.

Jacob Tremblay: And we still do it to this day!

my father's dragon
Elmer and Boris have a great friendship and really complement each other.

Did either of you try to do much preparation before you got into the recording booth?

Gaten Matarazzo: I don’t know if we’d be able to get anything done without [Nora] because we would go in there and we were just talking about like stuff like the Mandalorian was coming out for the first time, we were talking about Star Wars… We’d get in there and we could bring that energy and that youth and livelihood to the room.

[What] you do so wonderfully [Nora] is you hone that into what’s on the page and you let us build that relationship and that bond and that fire and it translates so well.

Nora Twomey: Do you not think it was Irish dancing?

Gaten Matarazzo: It might have been the Irish dancing [haha]! I still do it…

Wait, Irish dancing…?

Nora Twomey: There’s a lot of action in the film. So it can be difficult. You walk into a recording setup and it’s very dark, you have a microphone, but you’ve got no props, no costume, you only have each other. So, with nowhere to go that’s what we would do. We’d just do a little bit of Irish dancing to get the feel, get the energy up and have Gaten and Jacob really feel like they’re really in that place.

Gaten Matarazzo: It’s an improvising place. Sometimes you just bounce around and someone would tell you to breathe heavily and then you just get light headed and that’s hard to deal with so if you actually ended up getting out of breath, it’s a lot easier. And it makes you giggle too which is great.

my father's dragon
Irish dancing helped Gaten and Jacob for those action scenes…

Jacob and Gaten, did you have any idea what the animation would look like before going into the recording booth?

Jacob Tremblay: We saw glimpses of art which was very cool and very nice to actually see what we were talking to. I think with the tigers it especially helped us get a fun visual of how scary they were.

Gaten Matarazzo: Yeah, I think most of it was animated after we had recorded most of our stuff.

Nora Twomey: Absolutely. The animators need your voices in order to be able to do their work and they got such energy from the work. The guys said they just loved it so much. Because it takes an animator about a week to animate four seconds. They know every single little piece of you. They could probably say your dialogue back to you better than anything because they spend so much time with it!  But they had such fun with your performances and those scenes where it’s Elmer and Boris having a laugh or some of the big argument scenes, they had such it was such fantastic material to work with for the animators.

Gaten Matarazzo: They’re probably so sick of this movie haha! They spent so much time and it all just shows. It just shows that this is a project that’s been loved by everybody that has been a part of it. I know I loved every minute of working on this one, and it feels like a movie that’s made with love and effort and time. There’s a passion that you have [Nora] and that the studio has with every project that they make. Everything that I’ve seen from Cartoon Saloon and everything that I’ve seen that you make, there’s just such a power behind it that is just irresistible. The movies are so hard NOT to watch. Like there are some movies I’m fine pausing to go pee but I simply cannot when I watch this studio’s work and your work and I’m so happy to be a part of this one!

Nora, what was the inspiration for the look of My Father’s Dragon?

Nora Twomey: We had a fantastic art director Áine Mc Guinness and a fantastic production designer, Rosa Ballester Cabo, and between them they took inspiration from the book. The book’s illustrations are really beautiful. Certainly for the character of Boris, they very much leaned into the book’s illustrations.

For Elmer, because we knew we had to bring such emotional performances and be able to have the character design match what Jacob and Gaten were going to bring to the characters, they were economic with the amount of lines that they were using. So they were using blank space as well as lines which was really interesting. They also took a lot of inspiration from children’s drawings. I actually paid my kids to do it (they wouldn’t do it for free haha) – so they drew Boris and Elmer and tigers and gorillas. As an adult [you’re] thinking ‘okay, how do I draw a tiger? Okay, well, I get the proportions right…’ When coming at it from a younger child, they think ‘okay, well the head is really scary, so let’s draw the head really big…’ So that’s the kind of thing that they were doing.

That really loosened everybody up in the team in terms of their imagination. We had children’s drawings all over the walls! That was the massive inspiration for it. These guys are so brilliant at bringing the audience along with them in a way that makes you feel like you’re part of that friendship, so we wanted to make sure that with our world, you could be as immersive as that friendship was evoking for the screen.

My Father’s Dragon will be select UK cinemas on 4th November and on Netflix from 11th November.