Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Review: Pete's Dragon

Pete's Dragon (2D)
Cert: PG / 103 mins / Dir. David Lowery / Trailer

The cynic in me (and as regular readers will attest, that's who holds the majority-sway in my psyche) would perhaps wonder if Disney's current programme of retooling older animated content as sumptuous live-action holiday-bait means they're finally running out of ideas. But even the cynic shut the hell up less than five minutes into Pete's Dragon and just went on the ride. Because when they're making them this good, who cares?

A complete restructuring of the older movie, the 2016 version sees five-year old Pete suddenly orphaned and alone in dense woodland when he befriends the dragon he names Elliot, after a character in a storybook he has with him. For six years, the two survive as companions until their makeshift home is disrupted by deforestation/construction works. The film then follows the 11yr-old boy's rehabilitation into a civilised world he barely remembers, as well as the separation-anxiety for both Pete and Elliot, and of course the builders' reaction to an actual live dragon. Herein lies adventure...

Of course, being Disney, this film is pro-level Twee™ and is so preachy that's the screenwriters have hand-carved their own pulpit. Yet it's still thoroughly charming for all that, in a way which only The House Of Mouse can make look effortless. The wistful sunsets and easy-listening soundtrack threaten to get a little heavy-handed from time to time, but both suit the tone of the film perfectly.

Set in a nondescript time-frame (no mobiles, no laptops, little in the way of TV although the kids have got BMXs), the film lifts some of the more memorable beats from E.T. and Jurassic Park while never feeling like it's really stealing them. In fact, it seems to be the case that director David Lowery is more Spielbergian that even Spielberg himself can manage, these days. That said, there's also a dash of Predator thrown into the mix*1, which was a nice surprise.

Pete's Dragon turns out to be everything that The BFG should have been (and The Jungle Book, come to think of it). Although in common with those films, once again the best performances come from the young lead actor and a CGI counterpart. Oakes Fegely is fantastic as young Pete, and while his role is a lot more lighthearted than Jacob Tremlay's in Room, there's a dynamic to both the character and performance which makes it comparable.

As much as I enjoyed this, I know it'll be too saccharine for some audiences. Under the normal run of things, it probably would have been for me, too, but something just clicked the first time the gurning, grunting Elliot appeared on camera.

I had smiles, I had goosebumps, and on at least one occasion I might have had something in my eye. Pete's Dragon is another great example of a magical story told with absolute sincerity, and being all the better for it.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Despite what I've said there, The BFG, and probably Disney's live-action Cinderella, too.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
You could do far worse during the Summer holidays, if your padawans are pestering you to go out and do something.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It'll be the high-watermark which director David Lowery and lead actor Oakes Fegely will be judged against.
Certainly around these parts, anyway

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This movie's got that Robert Redford in it, who we saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, of course, playing opposite Mace Windu himself, Sam Jackson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Not only can Elliot the dragon make himself go invisible to evade his enemies, he's also got a broken tusk like Dachande from Steve Perry's Aliens vs Predator novels (a look which was also directly referenced in AVP: Requiem, one of the only cool things about that movie). Hang on, I'm not the only person who sees an adorable green furry dragon and thinks of Predator, am I?

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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