A gritty piece of young-adult fiction segues into colorful action-adventure territory in “The Ice Dragon,” from debuting helmer Martin Hogdahl. The tale of a lonely Stockholm lad who must rely on his inner resources — and new friends — when he falls into the grips of Swedish social services, this is modest but entertaining, family-friendly fare targeting the underserved tween set. The Nordisk release rolls out locally in late February and should fly to kids’ fests far and wide.
Motherless and small for his age, Mik (Philip Olsson) carries a heavy burden on his scrawny 11-year-old shoulders. He essentially keeps house for his older brother, Tony (Vincent Grahl), and unemployed alcoholic father (Per Bolander), who once enjoyed renown as drummer for a heavy-metal band.
But the beady eyes of the state are watching Mik’s dysfunctional family. When Dad is carted off to rehab and Tony to jail, condescending social workers (Anders Eriksson, Lisbeth Johansson) dispatch Mik to his bohemian Aunt Lena (Malin Morgan), a nurse in Selet, located in Sweden’s breathtakingly beautiful north country. Although it takes a while for him to adjust, Mik learns useful survival skills from Lena’s quarrelsome twin neighbors (Jarl Lindblad, Dick Idman) and earns the affection of assertive Thai-Swedish moppet Pi (adorable Feline Andersson, who resembles an Asian Pippi Longstocking).
Just when it seems that Mik has finally found the friends and family he longs for, social services arbitrarily send him to a wicked foster family nastier than Harry Potter’s loathsome relatives, the Dursleys. Confronted with some of his greatest fears, Mik displays courage and resourcefulness.
Condensing the novel’s action into a breathless 77 minutes, Petra Revenue’s screenplay gives the characters a softer edge and struggles a bit to retain and make resonant certain motifs; however, Mik’s obsession with whales and the sad sounds they make when lost comes through affectingly.
The young thesps, particularly Olsson and Andersson, along with Hampus Andersson and William Nordberg as the rest of their Selet gang, evince a lot of personality. John Grahl also scores as the food-guzzling, gun-toting bully son from the foster family.
The swooping widescreen camerawork keeps the fast-paced action tied to Mik’s point of view, while the fetching production design contrasts the dark, claustrophobic spaces he encounters in Stockholm with the openness and light of the far north.
Amusing photos from outtakes share the screen with the closing credits.