Dragon Girl – Dragevokteren (2020)
Directed by: Katarina Launing | 82 minutes | family, fantasy, adventure | Actors: Isha Zainab Khan, Iver Aunbu Sandemose, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Solveig Kloppen, Vanessa Borgli
The fascination of film makers and writers for dragons seems endless. Typically, the mythological creatures are depicted as evil, reptilian creatures with wings, which spit fire devastatingly when cornered. They are often thrown into battle by bad guys as the ultimate weapon. In recent years, the once maligned dragon seems to have embarked on a charm offensive. In (animated) films such as the fantastic ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ trilogy by Dean DeBlois, based on the book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell, the dragons reveal themselves as endearing creatures that can even form friendships with people. In the Norwegian-Dutch family film ‘Dragon Girl’ (2020) we also have to deal with a very cuddly specimen, which not only turns a deadly boring Norwegian town upside down, but also manages to bring two lonely children together.
The town of Kjedly is slowly but surely getting into the Christmas spirit. The students of the local primary school are preparing for the Christmas holidays. Eleven-year-old Waldemar (Iver Aunbu Sandemose), son of the school’s director (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), is not exactly popular. He hopes to score likes and followers with his daily vlog, but things are not going so smoothly yet. Not even when he takes on a challenge and tries to swallow a can of rotten fish. When his father asks to feed the neighbor’s prize-winning goldfish (!) because they are on vacation to Thailand, he meets Sara (Isha Zainab Khan), a mysterious girl who invades empty houses to find something to eat. and to be able to sleep. She is on the run from local police officer Matthijs (Kyrre Haugen Sydness). She likes to spend Christmas at Waldemar’s neighbors’ house. But then a flaming dragon crashes into the basement of the house. Sara wins the wounded creature’s trust and wants to return him to his family with Waldemar. But where does it come from and more importantly, how do you keep such a flamethrower under the radar in a town like Kjedly?!
Scandinavians are usually masters at making original, compelling youth films with a deeper layer. ‘Dragon Girl’ also has a double layer, which makes it much more than your average adventure print. The writing duo Lars Gudmestad and Harald Rosenløw Eeg incorporated current themes such as loneliness among youth, the (negative) influence of social media on the self-confidence of growing young people and the refugee problem in the story. Although this is not done in the most subtle, but in an effective way. Where the adult characters in these kinds of films sometimes want to overact (although it could be much worse than what we get to see here), it is the young actors who carry the film. Along with the dragon, of course. It is a dragon with a strong Dutch touch, because visual effects supervisor Dennis Kleyn and animation director Peer Lemmens are responsible for the animated creature. In total they worked with their animation team for more than a year on the 220 shots of a total of twelve minutes in which the dragon can be seen. Their efforts were rewarded earlier this year with an Amanda Award, a major Norwegian film award, in the Best Visual Effects category. Knowing that the two young protagonists largely acted with an animated dragon makes their performance all the more impressive.
‘Dragon Girl’ is far from perfect; the characters – especially the adults – are quite flat and caricatured, and the film has a bit of a cheesy performance to it at times. But the fact that this Norwegian-Dutch co-production clearly has its heart in the right place can clearly be seen in the closing minutes, when the Christmas feeling falls over the film like a warm blanket. And if even that damned police officer thaws, try to keep it dry again!