Tag Archives: Whoopi Goldberg

Fire in the Sky

My Father’s Dragon

by Hope Madden

Like most animation fans, I eagerly await each new Cartoon Saloon adventure. Their output is simply stunning: Wolfwalkers, The Breadwinner, Song of the Sea, The Secret of the Kells. Even Pixar doesn’t have a stronger batting average.

Nora Twomey directed two of those beauties, The Breadwinner and The Secret of the Kells (which she co-helmed with Tomm Moore). She returns to the screen with the lovely romp about a dragon with a problem and a boy who solves problems, My Father’s Dragon.

Animator Masami Hata first adapted Ruth Stiles Gannett’s beloved 1948 novel for the screen in 1997. Twomey’s update takes advantage of intricate, hand-drawn animation and an impressive voice cast to bring Elmer Elevator’s imaginative journey to life.

Elmer and his mom have left behind their small town and the little store they ran. They’re living on the leaking top floor of an apartment building in a crowded city. Neither is happy about it, even if both pretend well. Then a talking cat points Elmer toward a chance to fix everything. He just needs to save this one dragon.

Charming and endlessly good-natured, My Father’s Dragon succeeds despite its comparatively predictable nature. Go into any of the other Cartoon Saloon films and you’ll find yourself surprised with each narrative turn. My Father’s Dragon, on the other hand, feels more familiar.

If the studio’s defining uniqueness is missing from its latest ‘toon, its heart is not. Voiced by Jacob Tremblay, Elmer’s the kind of kid who’s wound too tight. He tries so hard, he breaks your heart, even when his anxiety shortens his temper. Elmer’s own personality mirrors his mother’s when the chips are down, which feels of bittersweet authenticity thanks in part to Golshifteh Farahani’s tender vocal performance as Mom.

As Boris the dragon, Gaten Matarazzo is silly and sweet with moments of raw emotion. Whoopi Goldberg, Judy Greer, Mary Kay Place, Rita Moreno, Chris O’Dowd, Alan Cumming, Diane Wiest and Ian McShane round out a uniformly excellent vocal ensemble, O’Dowd is especially impressing as McShane’s harsh second-in-command, Kwan.

My Father’s Dragon represents a new direction for the animation studio. While it’s not the unassailable success of their previous films, it’s a joyous, beautiful film.

Don’t Cry, Sad Clown

Misery Loves Comedy

by Hope Madden

Is every clown really a sad clown? In his debut as a documentarian, actor Kevin Pollak seeks to find the answer to that question by asking it (or variations of it) to 50 or so of the brightest comic minds of the day.

Who? Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Martin Short, Jimmy Fallon, Janeane Garofalo, Judd Apatow and dozens of other stand-up comics and comedic writers and performers. What Pollak wants in return is a glimpse into the shared psyche of the funnyman.

Who were their influences? When did they realize they were funny? What’s it like to bomb onstage? To kill? They’re interesting enough questions and sometimes the answers are fun to watch, but the sheer volume of responses almost requires that the film remain superficial.

His doc would have benefitted had Pollak narrowed down the interviewees, perhaps focusing solely on stand-up comics. We also hear from film directors, sit-com actors and one radio morning show. The breadth only draws attention to the lack of depth.

And yet, there are ways in which the cast feels very narrow. The group is – whether inadvertently or not – pretty white and male. Pollak may simply have raided his own personal phone book, calling in favors from friends for the film, but the result is breathtakingly one sided. He talks with 5 or 6 women, one of whom (Whoopi Goldberg) is not white. He also talks to one male (Kumail Nanjani) who isn’t white.

So, 40+ white guys tell us about the context of being funny. Presumably this is not because of some deeply held belief of Pollak’s, but that doesn’t excuse it. Forget that whatever thesis he may be trying to put forward is irredeemably skewed by this, the fact that anyone could direct a documentary about stand-up comedy without including the point of view of one African American male – no Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Tracy Morgan – is astonishing.

Plus, honestly, the film itself is almost never actually funny. He talks to fifty funny people about being funny yet catches almost no comedy on film. What?

In the end the film is dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, and I’m sure Pollak’s heart was in the right place. It’s just that nothing else was.