Pete’s Dragon (2016)

The other night, we decided to watch the 1977 Disney film of “Pete’s Dragon”. My kids watched it a lot when they were young and it seemed like a good thing to do in getting up for the remake that opened this weekend. As I watched it, I remembered how painful it was to experience back when the kids were four or five. It is looong. The songs are not memorable at all, and the actors either ham it up excessively or they are stiff as a board. Whatever the new film was going to bring us had to be better than this misbegotten piece of nostalgia that I hope never to have to sleep through, I mean watch, again.

Happily I can report that I was correct, this new version is a substantial improvement and will be an excellent family film for kids over the age of seven or eight. The one major reservation I have is that the film begins with a family vaction that goes dramatically wrong. It is traumatizing and the little guys might be scared and have nightmares about what happens. It is a scene that is done in the gentlest of ways but it is still tough to take when you are with your family. Once the opening five minutes is passed, the rest of the movie is a delight with some poignant moments of sadness but nothing that the kids won’t have seen in a dozen other stories.

 

In a way, this is a different version of “The Jungle Book“, with an orphan being raised by a wild anima but ultimately needing to be returned to a human society.¬† The animal in question does not really talk or sing but that does not mean that it does not emote. “Elliot” was a cartoon in the musical version and he was not always a creature that you could identify with. Ever since CGI has been used in movie special effects, Dragons have been a subject. From Dragonheart, to Reign of Fire, up through The Hobbit Films and Game of Thrones, these animals have been used as characters . Most of the time they are terrifying, sometimes they have voices but always they have been dangerous and scaly. The film makers here have managed to make a dragon lovable without stripping him of his dignity. Anyone who has owned a dog will see familiar expressions and behaviors expressed by Elliot. This is a story about a boy and his dog, who happens to be a dragon. The closest I’ve seen to this style dragon in the past is “the Luck Dragon” from “The Neverending Story“. Elliot is furry and the face is expressive, I also liked the addition of his body colors changing in response to a particular touch.

Bryce Dallas Howard makes back to back appearances in consecutive years in movies featuring large animals run amuck. Unlike “Jurassic World“, she is unlikely to get eaten, but her costar is a CGI invention. Robert Redford is in this film in a peripheral way, but as usual he is a welcome presence. I did not know that Wes Bentley and Karl Urban were in the film so that was a nice surprise. Young Oakes Fergley, who plays “Pete” is a good find for the part of a young child living in the wilderness who becomes a fish out of water in suburban/human surroundings. He is still very young so it is hard to say what his potential is but he is already a better actor than the child cast in the 1977 film.

There will not be any great twists in the story, it does feel in fact very much like an older Disney film when it comes to the plot. What makes it better than those creaky films like “Blackbeard’s Ghost” or “The Love Bug” is the quality of the production and the actors involved. Everyone treats the story here seriously and the events that happen only stretch credibility a little bit at the climax. The last twenty minutes feels right out of a dozen other films even though the plot is different and the characters are not the same either. If you are a sentimental adult who can suspend their cynicism¬† for an hour and a half, or if you have kids and you want them to see a quality family picture, than “Pete’s Dragon” should do the trick, and you won’t have to get an annoying Helen Reddy song out of your head afterwards.

TCM Animal House Screening

So here we are six years after I last posted about this film. “National Lampoon’s Animal House” really does qualify as a classic film, in spite of how rude, irreverent and sometimes crass it can be. There were other wild comedies of the seventies but “Animal House” introduced the off the wall sensibilities of John Landis, The National Lampoon Staff that included Harold Ramis, and of course John Belushi. All you “Ghostbusters” fans out there, if there was no “Animal House” there would have been no “Ghostbusters”.

 

The cast of this film is also amazing when you look back on it. It was Kevin Bacon’s first movie, Tim Matheson moved to the Big screen from TV roles, Tom Hulce is launched onto the movie going public and Karen Allen is just three years away from Raiders. The story I have heard is that Donald Sutherland turned down a piece of the backend in favor of s straight paycheck, and if he had taken a piece of the action he’d have made a hell of a lot more from the small part he played.

 

This is my daughter Amanda’s favorite comedy, primarily because it embodied the Spirit of Troy Trojan Marching Band’s attitude about how to enjoy college life. My memories of it are incredibly positive but it is not just a nostalgia trip to see it. The movie still kills in the laughter department. Belushi was not a silent star but more than half his role consisted of his physical comedy rather than dialogue. The movie is eminently quotable, and because it was set before it’s time in the first place, it has aged very well.

 

Here is the Band doing the Theme from Animal House [by the way, written by pop singer Steven Bishop, who appears as the guitar playing Romeo at the Toga party]

 

 

Somewhere, Amanda is in there, this was her last year playing for the Spirit of Troy before she graduated.

The Film Screens again this coming Wednesday, Now Take that Pledge pin off your uniform, drop and give me twenty, and go see this on the big screen.