Centuries after a human instigated war against dragonkind, the remaining dragons now live a sheltered existence hidden from the world of man. When human development approaches their valley, silver dragon Firedrake (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) decides he must find the mythical dragon sanctuary The Rim of Heaven. Firedrake is joined by his friend Sorrell (Felicity Jones),a forest brownie, and the two set off on their journey to save dragonkind from confrontation with humans. When Firedrake arrives in the city, a chance encounter leads him to Ben (Freddie Highmore) a street orphan and petty thief whom Firedrake mistakes for a great Dragon Rider (due to a movie poster for "How to Tame your Dragon"). Ben learning of possible treasures tied to the Rim of Heaven decides to go along with Firedrake, but when an ancient artificial being brought to life through alchemy named Nettlebrand (Patrick Stewart) learns of Firedrake and his quest, the stakes become more desperate with Nettlebrand in pursuit of not only Firedrake, but also the dragons at the fabled Rim of Heaven.
Adapted from the 1997 German children's novel Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, the book became a best seller upon its English language translation. An adaptation was announced in development with Constantin Films producing and distributing, and visual effects house Rise FX producing the actual animation. While Rise FX has a history providing visual effects for many large scale Hollywood productions, in particular the visual effects for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Rise has recently ventured into feature film production with the likes of sci-fi film Stowaway and now Dragon Rider or as it's known in its U. S. release Firedrake the Silver Dragon. The movie doesn't break much new ground for children's animated films, and the marketing has been more than a little blatant about evoking memories of Dreamworks' How to Train your Dragon franchise (down to using similar style font and text on the poster),but while simple Dragon Rider is an effective film that hits all the right beats.
The movie is essentially a road movie with Firedrake an adventurous dreamer who lives vicariously through the stories told to him by dragon elders, and Sorrell as the more cautious and realistic grounding element who's more practical than Firedrake. The voicework by Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Felicity Jones is really well done and you buy their dynamic and they work well together. Freddie Highmore as Ben I thought worked reasonably well as the slightly selfish character who follows the redemption arc, and while it's nothing groundbreaking I thought it was done well. Patrick Stewart's performance as Nettlebrand I rather liked because he walks the line playing a character both relentless and threatening, but also dives into silliness with a very strange running gag of using a fictional website called "fetchamatch.com" using a very steampunk looking computer that was so surreal in terms of its presentation and placement I honestly couldn't help but crack a smile over it. The animation is also qell done with the textures and models well rendered and falling just shy of the level of Dreamworks or Pixar, but more than exceeding something like Illumination.
With the story being very much inspired by road movies the movie is built around various "episodes" our characters encounter. Most of the encounters are reasonably entertaining with an encounter with a zoologist who specializes in fantastical creatures being quite fun, a sequence with a djinn who lives in the exhaust pipe of a rusted Volkswagen Beetle, and a sequence set in India filled with strong visuals and some entertaining comic banter between two one off characters. One drawback I'd say that comes from this is despite the established ticking clock of Firedrake's clan going to war with humans, very little threat seems to come from the human world and the movie seems rather detached from it despite taking place in modern day. Pretty much every human the trio comes across is friendly to them or helpful and it probably would've helped sell the desperation a bit more had their been an encounter with a malicious group of humans to establish why Firedrake's clan needed to be relocated. Admittedly this is probably a nitpick and as I haven't read the book I'm not sure if this point was addressed in the book, but it's definitely one of the more noticeable sticking points to the movie. The film also has some rather out there references to other animated films such as the previous mentioned "How to Tame your Dragon" movie poster that was rather headscratching in terms of its inclusion, and I kid you not, a blink and you'll miss it visual reference to the Ice Age films. How? Why? I have no idea, but the surrealness of its inclusion was definitely amusing.
Dragon Rider is a slightly above average children's film that will be inoffensive viewing for its target audience. While stylistically it owes a lot to the How to Train Your Dragon films, the movie finds its own voice and identity to keep itself distinct. Whether this is enough will depend on a viewer by viewer basis, but having seen a number of Vanguard Animation or Crest Animation films that reveled in their own laziness I'm probably giving Dragon Rider some leeway. It's not a bad example of what Rise FX is capable of in terms of feature production, and with some refinement I wouldn't mind seeing more from them.
Action / Adventure / Animation / Comedy / Family / Fantasy
Action / Adventure / Animation / Comedy / Family / Fantasy
Firedrake is a young silver dragon, who has had enough of constantly having to hide in a wooded valley. He wants to show the older generations of dragons that he is a real dragon. When humans are about to destroy his family's very last refuge, Firedrake secretly sets off on an adventurous journey with forest brownie, Sorrel. He wants to find the "Rim of Heaven", the dragons' mysterious haven. On their quest Firedrake and Sorrel encounter Ben, an orphan and stray, who claims to be a dragon rider. While Ben and Firedrake make friends quickly, Sorrel becomes increasingly distrustful and tries to get rid of the orphan at every opportunity. But the unlikely trio have to learn to pull together, because they are being hunted by Nettlebrand, an evil, dragon-eating monster was created by an alchemist with the aim of tracking down and destroying every dragon on Earth.
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