Review: ‘Dragonkeeper’ (2024), starring the voices of Bill Nighy, Mayalinee Griffiths, Anthony Howell, Bill Bailey, Andrew Leung, Tony Jayawadena and Sarah Lam

May 11, 2024

by Carla Hay

Ping (voiced by Mayalinee Griffiths) and Long Danzi (voiced by Bill Nighy) in “Dragonkeeper” (Image courtesy of Viva Pictures)

“Dragonkeeper” (2024)

Directed by Li Jianping and Salvador Simó

Culture Representation: Taking place during the Han Empire in ancient China, the animated film “Dragonkeeper” (based on Carole Wilkinson’s fantasy novel of the same name) features a cast of characters that are humans and dragons.

Culture Clash: An orphaned girl goes on a journey to save rare dragons from being killed into extinction. 

Culture Audience: “Dragonkeeper” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the novel or don’t mind watching a substandard animated film with mostly terrible voice performances that sound almost robotic.

Ping (voiced by Mayalinee Griffiths) in “Dragonkeeper” (Image courtesy of Viva Pictures)

“Dragonkeeper” is a shoddy adaptation of Carole Wilkinson’s 2003 fantasy novel of the same name. This animated film makes the story unfocused and bland. Most of the voice cast performances are stiff, with no real personality. They’re just reading their lines.

Directed by Directed by Li Jianping and Salvador Simó, “Dragonkeeper” seems to suffer from the effects of “too many cooks in the kitchen” for its watered-down and sloppily constructed screenplay. Wilkinson co-wrote the screenplay with Pablo I. Castrillo, Ignacio Ferreras, Rosanna Cecchini and Wang Xianping. When there are five or more credited writers for a movie screenplay, the movie is usually terrible.

“Dragonkeeper” takes place during the Han Empire in ancient China, but you wouldn’t know it because the English-language version of this movie makes no attempt to give the characters Chinese accents. All of the voice actors in the film have British accents. “Dragonkeeper” also do much to show Chinese culture, except for a sequence where a dragon teaches a girl what qi, also known as ch’i (psychic energy), is all about and how to use it.

The movie begins by showing two people whose lives will collide in a “good versus evil” battle years later. The story’s heroine is Ping, who is shown being taken as an orphaned baby by a cruel land owner named Master Lan (voiced by Tony Jayawadena) to become an enslaved servant. The story’s chief villain is Diao (voiced by Anthony Howell), a dragon hunter who is determined to kill every last dragon on Earth, or at least every dragon he can find in China.

Master Lan and his entourage are traveling home with baby Ping, but the infant’s loud crying annoys him. The baby is also of no use to Master Lan until the child is old enough to work for him. When Master Lan arrives in his village, an elderly woman named Lao Ma (voiced by Sarah Lam), who lives alone, immediately takes an interest in Ping and decides to raise her as if Ping were her own child.

Meanwhile, Diao has an ailing mother, (voiced by Jaqueline Chan) who is on her deathbed. Diao had been frantically trying to find a cure for his mother’s terminal illness. He believe it’s possible that dragons could hold the secret to healthy immortality. Although Diao is a dragon hunter, he also wants to use and exploit dragons if they can actually have some way to make humans immortal. Diao’s mother dies before Diao can find this miracle cure to death and diseases.

The movie then fast-forwards to when Ping (voiced by Mayalinee Griffiths) is about 9 or 10 years old. Master Lan goes to the home where Lao Ma and Ping live and forces Ping to go with him as his enslaved servant. During her miserable time working for Master Lan, Ping discovers that Master Lan has two adult dragons imprisoned in a secret dungeon.

The two dragons are Long Danzi (voiced by Bill Nighy) and Lu Yu (voiced by Beth Chalmers), who are among the last remaining dragons of their kind. Ping secretly befriends Long Danzi and Lu Yu. Ping also has a companion rat named Hua, who does not speak in the movie.

Something happens to Lu Yu, and Long Danzi is soon supposed to be sold to the emperor (voiced by Paul McEwan), who wants to keep the dragon as a pet for his spoiled prince son (voiced by Felix Rosen). Before Long Danzi is taken to the emperor, the dragon shows Ping an egg made of pearl and says an unborn baby dragon named Kai is in the egg. Long Danzi asks Ping to take care of Kai and keep this unborn dragon safe until Kai can be born.

There’s a certain body of water that is the only place that can dissolve the egg. Guess where Ping’s intended destination will be when she goes on an inevitable journey? Long Danzi notices certain signs that Ping might be part of a lineage of special Dragon Keepers, so Long Danz breathes a laser-like beam onto her chest.

“Dragonkeeper” then zig zags in a jumbled way through the rest of the movie, which has action scenes that often look like cheap-looking and unfinished animation. Except for Nighy (who gives a serviceable but unremarkable performance), all of the voice actors have little to no charisma for their characters. The emotions that are supposed to express in certain scenes are very flat, while the dialogue is very forgettable and trite.

“Dragonkeeper” also has themes and scenes that might be too intense or scary for children under the age of 7. Does any kid that young really want to see a movie about child enslavement? The last scene of “Dragonkeeper” ends like an underwhelming thud, with no real closure about a certain main character in the story. If people want to see an entertaining animated movie about young girl who befriends and rescued an endangered dragon, skip “Dragonkeeper” and watch Disney’s Oscar-nominated “Raya and the Last Dragon” instead.

Viva Pictures released “Dragonkeeper” in select U.S. cinemas on May 3, 2024.

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