“My Father’s Dragon” Soundtrack: Interview with the Danna Brothers

Mychael and Jeff Danna tell IndieWire how scoring the animated film freed them up as composers.

My Father’s Dragon Netflix movie is the latest release from Cartoon Saloon, an Irish studio whose traditional hand-drawn animations have a positively magical effect on audiences. In the case of ‘My Father’s Dragon’, this effect was also felt by those responsible for the film’s music.

“The thing about animation is that it’s a fantastic, fully created world, so it really takes the limits off the music if you’re willing to go there and the director is willing to go there,” said Jeff Danna, composer of “My Father’s Dragon.” IndieWire. His brother and fellow composer Mychael Danna added: “Audiences are very sophisticated listeners, especially for live-action films. Everyone has a kind of line in their head where they feel manipulated by the score—the line in live-action drama in our day and age is very different from animation, and I think in this kind of hand-drawn, fantastical animation. , there is room for the emotional guidance of the music.”

The story of “My Father’s Dragon”, in which a young boy named Elmer travels to a remote island in search of a dragon and encounters various spectacular locations and creatures, gave the Danna brothers free rein to create one of the most varied beautiful scores of 2022, with music that it deftly moves from the comedic register to moments of overwhelming symphonic action, and with subtle motifs that poignantly draw out the film’s themes of fear and connection. The daring score is the result of the brothers’ second collaboration with director Nora Twomey, who gave them the space they needed to experiment. “I don’t think he mentioned music at all,” Mychael said. “To be honest, that’s what a composer dreams of, because then we can interpret the director’s intention as best as possible, rather than someone saying, ‘I think this is how the music should be.’ We prefer to hear what they are experts in: story, characters, atmosphere – all the things that music can live in.”

My father's dragon

“My Father’s Dragon”

Courtesy of Netflix

To that end, Twomey’s initial conversations with the composers focused on how “My Father’s Dragon” explored fear and how the characters — and by extension, the audience — choose to live their lives. The Dannas then took this idea and tried to figure out what it would mean sonically. “There’s definitely a harmonic aspect to writing something out of fear,” Jeff said. “For example, when Elmer runs down the stairs and has a kind of living nightmare, we put in a bunch of metal crashing and things that almost felt like the environment was entering his head. Sometimes you play against the image and you play against them. In this movie, we were mostly trying to find different ways to express how overwhelmed Elmer is going to be.”

When Elmer encounters a giant gorilla, for example, the Dannas used a rich, powerful brass sound. “That’s not necessarily how everyone in the story saw him, but that’s certainly how Elmer would have seen him,” Jeff said. The desire to find interesting instruments to accompany the magical characters Elmer encounters on the island led the Dannas to some unusual but highly effective choices: a marimbula for the Gorilla King, a kalimba for Soda the whale, a hurdy gurdy for the tigers, and a recorder for the Cat, among others. These distinctive instruments, along with the highly effective use of vocals recorded at Abbey Road Studios, providing the sound of the island itself, result in a score that never ceases to surprise or dazzle the audience with its sonic twists and turns – the perfect musical corollary to the wild inventive story.

In essence, however, it is his fidelity to Elmer’s point of view that gives the score its coherence. “It’s all through Elmer’s eyes, and I have to add that a lot of it is instinct,” Mychael said. “You form an intellectual concept, but then as Elmer learns to deal with fear, you have to let go and trust your instincts. An example of this is the scene Jeff mentioned where Elmer goes down the stairs. There’s a funny beat with a weird time signature, and Nora said, “Oh, that’s great because it sounds like you’re tripping.” That’s not what we meant. It’s just following your gut, but once you build that foundation, instinct and emotion take over.”

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