Pete’s Dragon (2016): A Celebration of the Wonder of Nature and Magic of Childhood

   The new “Pete’s Dragon” is one of my favorite films. This is a film that manages to capture the wonder of nature, wildlife and childhood and also the complex relationships that come with family. The soundtrack leads to a beautiful meditation on it all with some absolutely wonderful performances by Bryce Dallas Howard and the legendary Robert Redford. Non-spoiler thoughts, I recommend this film and think you should check it out. I grew up on the original film and this film so different, and in my opinion so much deeper and better.

 The film was directed by David Lowery who co-wrote the script with Toby Halbrooks and produced by James Whitaker.

    The story involves Pete who is presumed dead when his parents die in a crash in the forest. It is here the dragon Elliot finds him and raises him before he runs into Ranger Grace whose husband is a foreman of the Lumbermill that has impeded on the territory where Elliot and Pete are living. From here the story unfolds.

The Pros: The World – The world is rich! The forest is full of life, the small town is full of politics and there is a dragon. This is very much a surrealistic fantasy world.

The Soundtrack – Daniel Hart creates a  beautiful americana folk soundtrack that captures the brutal feel of the lumber mill, the isolation of the town and the magic of the forest. It is meditative and reflects the feelings in our characters’ heads. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to see what music he does next as I’ve always been a fan of folk and it was perfect for this film.

The Characters – The characters are a strong part of this film! From Karl Urban’s Gavin who feels powerless so wants to own and capture Elliot as he’s in a dying industry (he works on a lumber mill) and his brother doesn’t respect him. Howard’s Grace is someone who is trying to make things work with her own family and make peace with the fact that her husband’s job is destroying the forest she works in as well as her own doubt of her father Mr. Meachum whose arc is capturing the magic of his childhood (Redford does this wonderfully) and of course the child actors who play Pete and Natalie who become friends as it is Natalie who helps Pete realize he wants to be a part of the world again and no longer separate in the forest.

The Wonder and Terror of the Natural World – The natural world is front and center in this story and all the wonder and terror of it all. It is almost hitting a deer that leads to the death of Pete’s parents and Elliot almost kills his new parents when he turns on his attackers and rage and attempts to burn them. It is only through respect that humans can co-exist with nature and with the natural world, is what the film argues. It is very Miyazakiesque and it is part of what makes the film so beautiful.

Okay: Dealing with Grief  and Loss – The film dealt with this a little bit but not really as Elliot was Pete’s way of dealing so we never him truly face the fact that his parents are dead. There are a few moments he misses them, but we never have the chance to see him face his grief. There was shock but after that not much else besides him forming a bond with a new family. It was dealt with a little but not enough for me to put it as a pro. The one way it worked was that Pete was tied to the forest and is always trying to run back until he faces his grief to some degree, which helps him form bonds in the world and a new family, in turn leading him to leave the forest.

The Cons: Jack – Jack, Grace’s husband is a plot device and is only there to counter the antagonist Gavin (his brother) who is hunting and captures Elliot. He never felt fully fleshed out and I didn’t know why he and Grace were together.

    This was an amazing film that is the only one of the Disney remakes that I consider great. “The Jungle Book” remake was awful and even though I’ve heard good things about “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast,” I am still worried. A good story can pull upon past stories, but it shouldn’t be a retelling, if I wanted a retelling I’d just read or watch that same story again. This film gets away from that and it is part of the reason it is a favorite film now. This is a film where magic happens and truly captures the beauty that can surround us.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 Would be higher if Pete dealing with his grief had played a bigger role and Jack had been a character not a plot device.

Top 5 Films of 2016

rogue-one

       This was an amazing year for film! An animation was at it’s best with even sequels being good like “Kung Fu Panda 3,” and “Finding Dory.” Action films were great in films like “The Nice Guys,” “Doctor Strange,” “Star Trek Beyond” and “Rogue One.” We had an amazing western in “Hell or High Water” and the Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!” and a fantastic high concept Sci. Fi. film in “Arrival.”  These are my honorable mentions by the way, that I highly recommend you go check out.

     Of course we also had duds which I’ll give a dishonorable mention to here as well. The bloated crap of “Batman v. Superman,” the unfocused mess of “X-Men Apocalypse” the hack jobs of “The Jungle Book” and “The Secret Life of Pets” and even the boring “Warcraft” film which I really wanted to like. Beyond this there were a few that were decent that didn’t make the dishonorable list or honorable mention and sure as hell would not make my Top 5.

  So without further ado, here are my Top 5:

Captain America Civil War

5) Captain America: Civil War

Director Joe and Anthony Russo

      This position was really a toss up between 2 other films. “Moana” and “Zootopia” were vying for this place as I enjoyed both of those greatly and loved the larger points they made in their narratives. What kept them from getting this spot was too much Shakira in “Zootopia” which took me out of the film and the fact that “Civil War” took more risks while “Moana” played it safe and did the Standard Disney Hero Arc. In “Civil War” there was no hero arc and what we see is how the debate between security and freedom isn’t a simple one, especially in a world full of Gods and vigilantes. I wish it had grappled more with the question but it did not let the question take away from the core drama. This is the second year of my doing this that the MCU has had a film make the list with 2014 being the year “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Winter Soldier” were in my Top 5. This studio clearly has the art down and even has me excited for the overly rebooted Spider-Man because of how human and awkward they make him in this film. I enjoyed this film more than “The Avengers” and that is a favorite film, so folks I seriously recommend this film and can’t wait to see where they take the Franchise, though I wish this film had truly grappled with death and loss rather than the drama of the philosophical war of ideology, and that kept it from being higher on the list.

9.7 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/captain-america-civil-war-2016-amazing-characters-in-a-story-that-explores-war-and-responsibility/

Deadpool poster

4) Deadpool

Director Tim Miller

   “Deadpool” is an amazing satire and deconstruction of the entire Super Hero genre as a whole and it does it with a limited budget and cast…This was a film the studio was expecting to fail but now it has changed the Super Hero paradigm. From making Rated R Super Hero films a thing again and making raunchy humor okay. I laughed so much during this film. This was the best comedy I saw all year and the only real cons that keep it from being perfect is the fact that it does look cheap at times and the villain was only okay. Deadpool really needed a good foil to work off of. If you haven’t seen this film and you like a great comedy or want to see the beloved super hero film torn apart (as a fan of the Super film I loved it) you should see this. The comedy starts with the opening credits and never stops and manages to have a good emotional core that drives it all.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/deadpool-2016-a-hilarious-satire-of-super-hero-films-and-a-brilliant-action-film-romance-and-comedy/

moonlight-poster

3) Moonlight

Director Barry Jenkins

    This was a powerful film written and directed by Barry Jenkins that tells a story of a young African-American boy growing up and wrestling with and coming to peace with his sexuality in a world everyone around him is hurting or hurting others. It is in this story of trauma that he is shaped as we see him as a boy, a teenager and finally a man and how different major events shape him as he seeks peace in the turmoil of everything around him. The only reason this film didn’t get Number 2 or Number 1 is because some characters drop out and are never brought up again and I felt that the ending did go on a bit long and could have all happened in one location. Besides that this is easily one of the best films of the year.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/moonlight-2016-a-beautiful-exploration-of-sexuality-trauma-and-healing/

everybody-wants-some

2) Everybody Wants Some!!

Director Richard Linklater

    “Everybody Wants Some!!” is a film I expected to hate when I saw the preview. A bunch of college kids who party and want to get laid…why on Earth would I want to watch that? Suffice to say this a film that is so much more than that. This is a film that reveals the complexity of people as individuals, in groups and wrestling the big questions like finding one’s purpose. I loved this film and found it to be perfect. It was a deep film that managed to still have fun and the basic premise of college kids wanting to get laid before college is still there but there is so much more going on and the reasons behind all of it get explored too. This film gave us a great ensemble cast and captured so much of the complexity of what makes humanity fascinating.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/everybody-wants-some-2016-a-beautiful-exploration-of-groups-sexuality-and-purpose/

Kubo and the Two Strings

1) Kubo and the Two Strings

Director Travis Knight

This is the first year since I started my Top 5 Films of the Year that an animated film has made the Number 1 stop. “Inside Out” made Number 2 last year but was beat out by “Fury Road” but here “Kubo” beat “Everybody Wants Some!!” and there are a few reasons why. Kubo is a film that not only deals with growing up but it deals with trauma, loss and forgiveness better than any film I saw this year. This is a story ripe with mythology and Laika’s animation captures it beautifully as we see Kubo’s hero’s journey as his relationship is explored with his parents, aunts and Grandfather. I was in this film all the way and as great as the other films were the ending of this film hits the hardest. The film is haunting, inspiring, funny and creative and at the core it explore that when you leave on an adventure you come back changed, and sometimes you lose people along the way. This core simple message solidified this film as the best film of 2016 for me.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/kubo-and-the-two-strings-2016-a-masterpiece-of-animation-with-an-unforgettable-story/