A mon­strous sur­prise

Clever, heart­warm­ing and ef­fort­lessly cool, Dis­ney’s lat­est re­make is com­fort­ably a clas­sic of the stu­dio, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

PETE’S DRAGON Di­rected by David Low­ery. Star­ring Bryce Dal­las Howard, Oakes Fe­g­ley, Wes Bent­ley, Karl Ur­ban, Oona Lau­rence, Robert Red­ford. PG cert, gen re­lease, 102 min Walt Dis­ney’s un­stop­pable cam­paign to re­make all its hits as live-ac­tion en­ter­tain­ments has – un­ac­count­ably early – reached the largely unloved 1977 hy­brid Pete’s Dragon. Like Bed­knobs and Broom­sticks be­fore it, this blend of fleshy ac­tors and bold an­i­ma­tion was a shame­less at­tempt to reignite some Mary Pop­pins magic. It did not suc­ceed.

The film’s rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity per­mits David Low­ery, di­rec­tor of Texan noir Ain’t Them Bod­ies Saints, to chip and chop to his heart’s con­tent. Work­ing with screen­writer Toby Hal­brooks, he has fash­ioned a film closer in shape to ET than to the Dis­ney film (some­thing high­lighted by the re­ten­tion of the name El­liott for the dragon), but the new Pete’s Dragon has a char­ac­ter very much its own. It is pumped full of com­fort­ing weird­ness. Bo­jan Bazelli’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy casts ar­bo­real light across ev­ery scene. Most im­por­tantly, the pic­ture surges with sin­cer­ity. It is clever, but it’s never clev­er­clever.

We be­gin with a pro­logue that im­me­di­ately risks alien­at­ing au­di­ences with its Grimm-level bru­tal­ity. Like the hero­ine of Spir­ited Away, young Pete is be­ing driven to a new home by ap­par­ently car­ing par­ents. A deer leaps into the road and the car crashes in a grace­ful slow-mo­tion tum­ble that leaves the adults dead and Pete aban­doned in the for­est. Al­most im­me­di­ately, he meets up with the un­ex­pect­edly furry dragon of the ti­tle.

Six years later, Pete (now played by a con­fi­dent Oakes Fe­g­ley) and El­liot have come to live in har­monic syl­van bliss. This will not stand. Even­tu­ally, a lovely for­est ranger named Grace Meacham (the lovely Bryce Dal­las Howard) finds him and brings him back to meet her equally lovely dad (the equally lovely Robert Red­ford). Mr Meacham, who nar­rates in the man­ner of a 1970s Dis­ney na­ture film, saw the dragon as a child and is the only per­son minded to be­lieve Pete’s story.

Among the lesser achieve­ments of this won­der­ful film – the most wel­come sur­prise of the cin­e­matic year so far – is its ac­com­mo­da­tion of entry-level hip­ster aes­thetic within a Dis­ney en­ter­tain­ment. Hear­ing that the di­rec­tor of a grim Sun­dance hit was about to score a fam­ily flick with mu­sic by Leonard Co­hen, St Vin­cent and Bon­nie Prince Billy, the rea­son­able punter might shud­der at un­in­vited me­mories of Spike Jonze’s smug, ar­ro­gant Where the Wild Things Are.

There is no such show­ing-off here. The wist­ful songs per­fectly echo the sharp emo­tional tug at the film’s cen­tre. The re­la­tion­ship that Pete de­vel­ops with El­liott – ren­dered in CGI as a gi­ant, hairy tower of warmth – plays on an un­der-dis­cussed child­hood fan­tasy: the no­tion that a non-judg­men­tal pet could also be a re­spon­si­ble guardian.

Gen­er­at­ing at least three ir­re­sistible big-hanky sobs in the clos­ing half-hour, Pete’s Dragon de­liv­ers the emo­tional punch that The BFG so sorely missed. It’s ex­cit­ing. It plays fair with its au­di­ence. It is a new Dis­ney clas­sic.

Here be magic Oona Lau­rence and Oakes Fe­g­ley in Pete’s Dragon

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.