Pete’s Dragon

A truly affecting and oh-so-lovely modern fairytale.

I saw this yesterday with my friend Galia. I think we both went in thinking, eh this will just be a kids movie. We both left the cinema post-film as hot messes having cried, a lot. Having not seen the original movie from 1977 and choosing not to look up the film beyond the trailer I expected to be entertained. I hadn’t expected to be so completely moved. Few films are this much of a treat to watch and even fewer will leave you feeling so drained yet consumed by a happy glow. A cinematic gem with little equal!

Five year-old Pete (Oakes Fegley) was orphaned by a car accident. Lost and alone in the woods it looks certain that he will not survive for long. However help, and friendship, comes in the most unlikely and unbelievable of places – a dragon who lives in the woods. Pete names his new friend Elliot and six years of undisturbed friendship follow. However after spying on a of lumberjacks a series of events results in Pete being discovered and taken away by park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). She, and the rest of the town, cannot believe that Pete survived six years on his own in the woods. Yet Pete is insistent he wasn’t alone, though he struggles to explain who/what Elliot actually is. Maybe Grace’s father (Robert Redford), who has claimed for decades that he once meet a dragon in the very same woods, will be able to help?

It’s actually a real struggle to explain just how wonderful, marvellous, fantastic this movie is without repeatedly using the aforementioned adjectives. It’s just so ruddy lovely! Part of this surprise and pleasure comes from how unexpectedly brilliant the film is. Considering how certain disappointments (again I’m going to name and shame Suicide Squad here) have been advertised non-stop for months Pete’s Dragon quietly got on. Some beautiful posters here and a very well-done trailer there a quiet buzz was created as opposed to some enormous fiery roar. Whilst this certainly works in the film’s favour it’s the quality of what on over here that truly casts a wondrous spell over the audience.

Few films, be that kids movies or otherwise, are this captivating and beautiful. For the visuals alone are gorgeous – the settings are spectacular and the special effects of a certain friendly dragon are fantastic. The character’s are brilliant as are the actor’s performances. Bryce Dallas Howard (who I found rather problematic in last year’s Jurassic World) is warm and delightful as Grace. Redford is a charming old codger, a likeable grandfather-figure with that certain twinkle in his eyes.  Wes Bentley is more than fine as Grace’s fiancee, Karl Urban is yet again a treat to watch (his second great role of this year after Star Trek Beyond) as his gung-ho  brother and Oona Laurence gives a really lovely performance as Jack’s daughter and Pete’s new-found friend.

Yet the two stars of this movie have to the the eponymous duo. Fegley as Pete is so captivating and heartfelt to watch. His backstory, which opens the film, is as dark and emotional as that of Bambi (1942). His performance is so natural and carefree that he is a real to joy to watch. The fact his main screen companion is a product of computer animation provides him with no trouble (just as Neel Sethi in this year’s The Jungle Book) and he convinces us with ease. My maternal instinct really made regular appearances as we watch his various emotional turmoils. I also fell in love with Elliot the dragon – so much so I’ve got a niggling need to buy this plushie from the Disney Store. He’s a magnificent cinematic creation, fully developed with a great balance between goof, charm and undivided loyalty. It says so much about the developments in cinema that a computer generated character such as Elliot fits in seamlessly. Elliot looks, sounds and moves like a real creature – something I desperately wish for! 

‘Pete’s Dragon’ is a true pleasure to watch for both children and adults. It’s completely charming, sincerely soulful and magnificently mystical. Unlikely to be beaten for the title of family movie of 2016.

4.5

Pete’s Dragon is in UK cinemas now. 

 

Finding Dory

W.W.D.D: What would Dory do?

13 years on from the incredible Finding Nemo and our fish friends are back – but this time Dory is the focus. Our favorite Paracanthurus (Blue Tang) is back. The phrase above is not just my new mantra for living, it’s the motto of the movie. At one point a character even asks himself, What Would Dory Do? For Dory is one of Pixar’s greatest creations – truly lovely, totally optimistic with a tenacious heart of gold. What is truly Pixar about both her onscreen features is how her having memory loss is handled – it is not her main character trait nor is it treated as a problem that needs ‘fixing’. It is part of who Dory is, yet something she does not allow to completely control her. Her much awaited sequel really does not disappoint.

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The Jungle Book

It’s really a Bare Necessity that you see it!

For reasons somewhat unknown and potentially puzzling for many fans, Disney has decided to make a series of live-action versions of their animated classics. Apparently there are even 15 currently being planned. If they are all even half as good as this one then it’s not something to worry over. The Jungle Book (2016) is a marvelously wonderful adaptation that is both true to the original 1968 film yet with enough of its own nuances for a fresh-feel.

Mowgli was only a baby when he was found alone in the jungle by Bagheera the black panther (Ben Kingsley). Bagheera took Mowgli to the group of animals in the jungle who would best be able to care for him and protect him – the wolf pack. Raised by surrogate mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and bought up alongside their wolf cubs Mowgli learns the ways of the wolves, but as he is getting older Mowgli’s (Neel Sethi) progress is starting to lag behind his wolf siblings. One day, during the dry season, all the animals of the jungle are gathered to drink what remains of The Water Truce when Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) makes a reappearance after years away. Shere Khan smells Mowgli’s scent and warns the wolfpack to get rid of him or face the consequences. Bagheera offers to escort Mowgli back to the land of the man but the pair get separated on the journey. A close encounter with an enormous Indian python called Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) leads to Mowgli meeting Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). A true friendship begins to form between them but how long can it last with Shere Khan still desperate to hunt and kill Mowgli?

There are three key things that have been perfected to make this film as good as it is. Hopefully one of the things you noticed as you read the above plot summary is the cast. Firstly, how good is that cast!?! Look at the incredible group of actors that were brought together. Then look individually at each actor and the character they play. It’s not often you get to say that every casting choice is perfect within a movie and it’s something that you can say applies to this film. Kingsley provides the necessary paternal warmth hidden under layers of no-nonsense concern. Nyong’o as Raksha is a wolf fiercely protective and not afraid to speak out when it’s needed. Elba is fantastic, a properly scary villain, who growls around the land. Johansson’s Kaa is suitably seductive and hypnotic. But the award for most outstanding vocal contribution has to go to Bill Murray providing a performance that is un-bear-ably endearing and amusing in equal measure. How young newcomer Neel Sethi manages to hold his own is an incredible feat which he appears to do with ease. Let alone the fact he spends the film acting alongside CGI animals…

Leading to the second area in which this film excels – the visuals. I’m on the fence about 3D usually. After seeing too many films which claim 3d status yet do little to warrant it I tend not to be overly excited when having to choose between 2d and 3d showings.The Jungle Book is the first film in an age where I’ve been so glad I booked that 3d ticket. The depth of the frame, the landscape, the animals fur, the movement of the water and the curse of the red flower. All of these aspects are superbly enhanced by the 3d. Whilst aware of the cost it can add to a cinema visit I would firmly recommend seeing this film in 3d to access the added textures and wondrous depths it provides. The animals themselves are beautiful and almost life-like in how they look and move.I now desperately want to cuddle a baby wolf and sit upon a giant bears stomach as we float through the river.

Thirdly there’s the direction.Director Jon Favreau ensure first and foremost that this is a children’s movie whilst avoiding any pandering or talking down to the children. The film has enough darkness to give it bite – mildly frightening as opposed to truly scary. There’s even a lesson or two to be learned along the way. Unlike the original animation this film is not a musical but two of the classic songs are included – ‘The Bare Necessities’ is sung by Mowgli and Baloo during the aforementioned river floating sequences and Christopher Walken talk-sings his way through ‘Wanna Be Like You’ in such a wonderfully charming yet ultimately threatening manner – that feel like a natural fit as opposed to being shoe-horned in.

This may just be the most enchanting film of the year so far. It’s a marvellous visual spectacle told with wit and warmth. A treat for the eyes, ears and heart.

4 stars