Dragon Rider (3 stars)

Dragon Rider

An impressive collection of British actors lend their voices to this solidly entertaining kids' flick

This kids' adventure from German production outfit Rise Pictures won't trouble the greats of animation; studios like Pixar and Cartoon Saloon can definitely rest easy, but it boasts a top-drawer British voice cast, including Felicity Jones and Patrick Stewart, and some decently designed visuals. The story on which it is based is the brainchild of novelist Cornelia Funke, known as the German JK Rowling, although the How to Train Your Dragon franchise is clearly a big influence here too, so much so that a parody, 'How to Tame Your Dragon', features in the film.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster (most recently seen in Netflix hit The Queen's Gambit) voices Firedrake, a silver dragon who is amongst the last of his kind. Along with the other remaining dragons, he's been hiding out from humans, who they have come to fear. When their valley home is threatened by human encroachment, this brave young firebreather and his chipmunk-like 'brownie' friend Sorrel (Jones) head out on a quest to find the legendary Rim of Heaven, supposedly a paradise for dragon-kind. But coming out from cover proves dangerous and the pair draw the attention of dragon-chomping monster Nettlebrand (Stewart), while Firedrake finds what he thinks is an ally in human thief Ben (Freddie Highmore), who he's tricked into believing is a dragon rider.

The dragons are rather nicely rendered but many of the human characters, most detrimentally Ben, lack the same attention to detail. The story is a bit of a mess of ideas, which are slightly hurriedly imparted, but the globe-trotting nature of the adventure brings plenty of visual variety to the mix. The main trio of heroes aren't hugely engaging but Stewart is every bit as booming and ferocious as you'd hope, playing a menacing 500-year-old 'dragonoid', while the supporting performances bring the fun. Meera Syal is a hoot as 'dragologist' Subisha, with Sanjeev Bhaskar her interfering husband, who's armed with snacks. And there's enjoyable work from Nonso Anozie playing a huge, pink, multi-eyed genie, dubbed Mighty Djinn.

Dragon Rider is solid entertainment, particularly for young kids, but it's not very ambitious, neither striving for consistent beauty nor emotional resonance. And it doesn't make much of its ecological themes, the dragons' solution to the destruction of their habitat is simply better hiding, and that's seen as no bad thing. The film has some fun mashing up ancient myth and modern tech, but that's the most sophisticated level it's operating on.

Available to watch on Sky Cinema from Fri 12 Feb.

Dragon Rider

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • UK
  • 1h 32min
  • Directed by: Tomer Eshed
  • Written by: Johnny Smith
  • Cast: Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Felicity Jones, Freddie Highmore, Patrick Stewart, Nonso Anozie, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Baskhar
  • UK release: 12 February 2021

A young silver dragon teams up with a mountain spirit and an orphaned boy on a journey through the Himalayas in search for the Rim of Heaven.