For whatever reason, dragons are uncommonly popular in animated fare. We’ve had three How to Train Your Dragon entries, Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, and Netflix’s My Father’s Dragon. Now we can add Dragonkeeper to that list. It’s a Spanish-Chinese co-production, dubbed into English for stateside release. Sure, it’s a little strange hearing Asian characters speaking with British accents, but once you get used to that, the movie’s adventure delivers a good time.

Set in ancient China, the story begins with a prologue revealing that dragons and humans used to live together in harmony. That eventually changed, and now dragons are locked away. From there, it picks up with a girl named Ping (Mayalinee Griffith) who befriends the captive dragon Danzi (Bill Nighy) and subsequently becomes protector to a dragon egg. In order to save the dragons from extinction, she has to take that egg to the magical waters of life, where it can hatch and thrive. All sorts of obstacles get in her path, including a villain looking to use the egg's special powers for his own personal benefit.

Dragonkeeper is beautifully animated, with bright colors and appealing character designs. Many recent animated features – even the good ones - go for maximum razzle-dazzle, to a point where it can become slightly overwhelming. You spend as much, if not more, time looking at the visuals as you do paying attention to the plot. This movie nicely scales that back a little bit. It’s got plenty of detail and style, without overdoing it. Everything is rendered in a way to serve the story rather than to show off. In that regard, it’s more akin to Shrek than to something like Trolls Band Together.

The plot is a tad complicated for younger children, but those above 7 or 8 will be able to appreciate the theme about responsibility to yourself and those around you. Ping takes great care to protect the egg, just as she gets into her predicament because she was attempting to protect her grandmother. The girl’s devotion adds excitement to the action scenes, including one where she and Danzi traverse a rickety old footbridge. Even when her own life is in peril, she refuses to lose her grasp on the object she’s been entrusted with. Another thrilling scene finds Ping and Danzi fighting a devil-like creature to fulfill the mission.

Because we’ve seen other animated films about dragons, Dragonkeeper feels slightly familiar. But it’s nice to look at and fun to watch, with well-timed moments of humor, most courtesy of Ping’s mischievous pet mouse. Family films have been in short supply lately, so here’s a picture you can take the kids to without having to worry about exposing them to potty humor or bad behavior onscreen. And it’s got heart, to boot.

out of four

Dragonkeepers is rated PG for violence, thematic elements, and scary images. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan