Pete’s Dragon

I was going to love Pete’s Dragon. No matter what critics said or didn’t say, I was going to love it. That said, I didn’t think I would love it as much as I did. For starters, there is no singing which is my favorite part of the original film. Some of my all-time favorite Disney music comes out of the original Pete’s Dragon. And secondly, Elliot was…different. I remember the first trailer and just sort of sitting there until I could spit out, “wait…Elliot has FUR?!” I adored the animated pink and green dragon of the original (my first car that I paid for, which was blue, was named for him. Yeah, I don’t know either. I just loved the character that much). So, while I knew I would still love it because of reasons, I didn’t expect to be quite as enchanted as I was.

Luckily, I was primed for the big difference because of a review I read last Friday before I went to see it. They talked about how it was a quiet film, one that harkened back to some of the classic childhood films like E.T. There are action scenes but the real story is the family, the relationships, the growing pains the main characters feel; not the explosions or chase scenes. It reminded me of my favorite live action Disney films when I was younger: the original Escape to Witch Mountain, The Apple Dumpling Gang, even The Parent Trap. It wasn’t loud, overcomplicated, or silly to the point of ridiculousness. They were usually about a kid, or a group of kids, just trying to find a place to belong and the friends they make along the way.

This new version of Pete’s Dragon is gorgeous; visually stunning. Its time period is slightly non-descript but probably the late 1970s? At one point, I remember thinking “a John Denver song would fit well here.” It’s harkening back to what seemed like a much simpler time, a safer time, though villains still lurk. The villain of misunderstanding, of fear, of ambition. Those people who must destroy what they do not understand. The worst kind of villain to me; the kind I wish I could just reach into the screen and shake for all I’m worth. Pete’s Dragon has a good one of those here. In the original, the villain is a cartoon in live action; here the villain is someone who is simply afraid and has the power to act on his fear and turn it to his advantage in the town.

For a villain, there must be a hero and Pete lives up to the title. They do maybe hammer it home a bit much (lots of the characters call Pete brave throughout the film) but Pete lives up to the word. His story is heartbreaking on many levels (why he meets Elliot is pretty devastating); but his character is one of curiosity and acceptance so he learns to adapt, to adjust and to thrive. Some will argue I’m sure that the character adjusts too quickly; to which I would remind them it’s an hour and a half movie. He is brave but I don’t think he’s ever thought of himself in those terms. He was simply living. Those he meets in his journey are much like him; curious about the world around them, trying to adjust and accept as the world around them changes. The forest ranger Grace who finds Pete, Grace’s father who swears he saw a dragon in the forest years before, Grace’s fiance and his daughter. Perhaps they are reluctant at first but as the movie builds, they see that a dragon can be a friend, not a foe.

Which brings us to Eliot. The animation is fantastic; at no point does Eliot looks like a cartoon out of place in the film. He blends with his scenery, interacts seamlessly with Pete and the other actors. The fur does make him a bit more cuddly, a bit more approachable and less like a dinosaur out of Jurassic Park so that did the job. But the character remains much the same as the original film; he’s still a bit of goof, clumsy at times, fierce when his friend is in danger and lost when he doesn’t understand something. His relationship with Pete is the heart of the film and honestly, that is what makes it sing.

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Ah, the Classics

It is my tradition that when I have a Disney trip coming up, I watch all my Disney movies before I go. I also get all the Disney movies from the library, and this time Netflix even got into the mix. To me, that is like another countdown as I save my very favorites until right before I go (meaning on the docket this week is Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, The Rocketeer and Wall-E). One thing I wanted to do this time was revisit some of the classic Disney films, ones I hadn’t watched since I was a child.

From Listal

I started with Dumbo. I have only vague memories of ever watching this film as a kid. Re-watching it, I was touched by the drama of the animation. The storm when they are pitching the circus tent, the fire in Dumbo’s clown stunt, the very odd almost Heffalumps and Woozles sequence after Dumbo gets (gasp!) accidentally drunk. The artistry of the film struck me as I know this was not one of Walt Disney’s favorite films because of what he saw as a lack of artistry in it (it was essentially only made to make money and that was never something Walt was interested in doing really). This could be because hand drawn animation is becoming more and more a lost art that I just revel in it when I watch it. So that struck me. What also struck me was how…well…politically incorrect it is. The animal cruelty it displays is a bit appalling at times especially in the treatment of Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo’s mother. And I won’t touch the singing crows with a ten foot pole. That said, I liked Dumbo. It’s a fabulous little movie with a lovely story and great music. The crows that sing it might be questionable but “If I See an Elephant Fly” has to be one of my all-time favorite Disney songs. It’s so catchy and bouncy and, English nerd alert, the word play is just plain fun!

From Amazon

I next tackled Bambi, and I do mean tackled. I have memories of sobbing watching this film as a kid because remember, it’s me and this is a film where animals will be in peril ergo there will most likely be tears. However, I actually made it through without crying and I think that was because I spent the whole movie waiting for the other shoe to drop if that makes sense. I knew what was coming so I was on pins and needles, steeling myself for it the entire film. The first basically has the two major disasters and the plot works around both of them. It’s almost episodic, more along the lines of a Fantasia with the same characters reappearing in each section. Now, in Bambi, hand drawn animation is shown at its finest. It was one of the film they used the multiplane camera on and you can tell they had fun playing and continuing to learn how to best use that camera. The depth of the camera shots is astounding and reminds me a lot of one of my favorite scenes in Beauty and the Beast – the opening shot of the Prince’s castle through the forest and over the waterfall – the depth of that scene never fails to capture my imagination and all of Bambi basically had that sort of depth. The story is perhaps not my favorite – it’s portrayal of family dynamics was fascinating but very 1940s and I won’t even go into the ridiculousness of Bambi’s love interest Faline. I didn’t think it was possible to want to smack a deer…it is. That said, I am in love with Flower – he has officially entered Krystal’s Favorite Disney Character Annuals.

From Listal

I finished up with Pinocchio. I distinctly remember not liking this film when I was a kid. I think Pinocchio annoyed me. I was very much a goody-two shoes (still am, let’s face it) and Pinocchio’s failure to do what he was told at every turn was just irksome, even to my eight year old self. Particularly when he had Jiminy Cricket there telling him that what he was doing was a bad idea (I am very much a fan of Jiminy’s – I associate him more with the Disney environmental movement and as the voice of Wishes than I do with his own movie though). I also remember being scared by this film, a lot more than any others we watched when I was young. Not even the evil queen in Snow White could scare me as much as the scenes at Pleasure Island when the boys are all turning into donkeys. However, I am happy to report I liked it on my recent viewing. It will never be my favorite Disney movie – I doubt I’d ever even shell out the money to add it to my movie collection but I appreciated it much more as an adult than as a kid. The storytelling is really quite good – it flows well and it is plausible for Pinocchio to end up where he does at all times. Again, the animation was impressive, particularly the Monstro scenes. A belated kudos to the special effects animation team because those scenes were awesome as were the appearances of the Blue Fairy.

Overall, I was glad I took the time to re-watch these classics and revisit them as I truly don’t think I’d watched any of these films since I was 8 or 9 years old. I grew up in the second golden age of animation – I was much more into Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King but as I get older, I can appreciate more the legacy those films fit into. I particularly wanted to watch these films again as these were Walt’s films and as I get to (FINALLY) visit the park that Walt built later this year, I wanted to make sure to fit the classics of the first golden age into my schedule.

Can I Move Here?

Seriously. I want to live in that! From Mubi

I’ve always enjoyed the dubbed animation movies from Japan. I may have watched Kiki’s Delivery Service way too many times one summer when Cartoon Network had it on rotation. The style of their animation is so novel and just…cool, one has to enjoy it. Not to mention, they are good with stringing a narrative together that on paper, shouldn’t work. I watched Ponyo earlier this year and loved that as well. The sense of whimsy in these films is so refreshing, so pure. They get laughs without a wink to the audience. Often impressive these days. So, I was excited to find Howl’s Moving Castle on the library shelf yesterday. I have started my weekly Disney movie watching in preparation for my upcoming trip and since Disney is the US distributor for Studio Ghibli films, I figured Howl’s Moving Castle counted. I now…um…don’t want to give it back to the library.

The film is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones (which I have an ILL request in for now – because if it’s better than the movie, I won’t want to get that back either). The story is easy to follow when you watch it but go with me as I describe it. Sophie is a quiet hat maker living in a sort of steampunk world where witches and wizards are common. A war is brewing quietly outside her door but independent Sophie refuses to be cautious which is how she meets Howl, the most feared wizard of them all. Because of Howl though, Sophie is cursed into the body of an old woman. To break the curse, Sophie falls in with Howl’s gang, as the cleaning lady of his moving castle. The war escalates and it is left to Sophie to save Howl and her new family.

OK, I kept it simple to not confuse but I cannot explain how much I love the character of Sophie, both young and old. Independent, spunky, clever and willing to work to protect her family, even from themselves. She isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. As an old woman, she lets down her guard as she’s never seen herself as worthwhile or pretty enough like the rest of her family. Once she’s old, she feels free to be herself and truly blossoms. I also love that Howl always sees Sophie as a young woman the few times Sophie is the main focus of the viewer’s gaze from Howl’s perspective. For the most part, as the story is told from Sophie’s point of view so Howl, strange, enigmatic, brilliant Howl, is the main focus of the viewer’s gaze.

The rest of the cast of characters are also fun and interesting. The idea of Sophie’s world is one with with people who are supposed to be seen as good or bad often operating in the grey areas. One of the reasons Sophie’s black and white way of looking at the world is so novel in the world she finds herself in. Calcifer, a fire demon who powers the moving castle, is funny and clever. The Wicked Witch of Waste is one you can never be sure of and Markl, Howl’s apprentice, is a child trying to be an adult, often in a hilarious getup of cloak and long grey beard. Then there is the castle…I want to live in it. Seriously. It is right up there with the TARDIS as some of the coolest transportation ever dreamed up. It is a delightful mix of houses, boats and machinery all jumbled together and it somehow just works. Add in a magic door that can open out onto different towns all over the world and it is pretty much awesome. (Actually, the analogy of the Doctor to Howl is quite apt now that I think about it.)

So, I highly recommend you check out this movie for both the fabulous animation (seriously, there is a sea where Sophie is looking out over the ocean, it is fantastic animation) and the wonderful story of magic and love. I have been feeling the need for a dose of whimsy and Howl’s Moving Castle more than delivered.

It’s that time of year again

I do this every spring when school is starting to get hectic. I have presentations, papers, research and a million other things going on that I need to be worried about. It is then that I, all of the sudden, decide to become eight years old again.

Those of you who have been lucky enough to be around me for any length of time know I would have preferred to remain eight years old. Don’t ask why I ever decided on eight – as far as I know the year 1993 wasn’t anything special – it wasn’t even a Disney year, either in trip (we went in ’92 and ’94) or movie (we were between Beauty and the Beast and the arrival of The Lion King). But eight has always been my number and at this time of year, I have an adult temper tantrum and revert to childhood comforts.

Take my recent movie choices – I recently purchased Enchanted (i.e. the day it came out on DVD I happened to be at Borders and it was a good price…I couldn’t just walk away…). No, it’s not only that I purchased it and watched it. It’s that I’ve watched it four times since then. That’s about eight hours of my life – eight hours when I should have been researching the authority of the written word, discovering what exactly the Library of Congress’s metadata scheme actually is as well as reading for my classes in general and overall, being more productive than laughing hysterically yet again when Prince Edward gets creamed by bikers in Central Park. Next, we’ll add Nim’s Island, a delightful adventure romp with an agoraphobic writer and Abagail Breslin as adorable as always. I may also have shared a bucket of popcorn with peanut M&M’s at that movie…Lastly, what did I do last night? Instead of finishing my reading for my classes on Wednesday? Oh right, I rented Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. iTunes rentals will not help my future productivity. Not only did I watch a loopy Dustin Hoffman and his toy store (a store I would still frequent at my age if it actually existed), I watched it with a massive bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream while giggling like a school girl at the escaping bouncy balls.

Leaving aside the fact that this time of year is not good for my very slow metabolism, what makes me throw my temper tantrum against being an adult every year at the same time? Firstly, I think I need to admit to myself it’s not a random temper tantrum. I am always game for a good “kids” movie (hence my love affair with Nanny McPhee but that’s another story entirely…). And to be honest, I love acting like a kid. I think I need to send Walt Disney World a thank you card for that. Somewhere along the way, trips to a place where grown adults are encouraged to act eight years old again, coupled with a healthy dose of childhood delight and a death grip on childhood culture, I actually managed to preserve the kid in me this far. And she’s not happy at this time of year because, let’s face it, she has to act like a grown up constantly. Not that I’m complaining, I’ve always enjoyed school and it is the one thing I have always been really good at. But, this time of year, I have to let the kid in me have her temper tantrum, take one for the team, and eat copious amounts of junk food while watching movies that remind me of the joy and freedom I felt as a kid. Some days, I think I cherish those moments more than any of the adult ones I’ve ever had.

So, if you’re like me, and heading in for the finals collision in the distance, take a moment and let that eight year old who made it this far, buried maybe beneath layers of responsibility, due dates and stress, out for a run. Giggle with friends and buy out a candy store, play hopscotch, swing, walk proudly into the G-rated movie loaded down with food you’ll be sweating off at the gym for the next month. We give ourselves so little carefree time these days – why not let out the eight year old before the temper tantrum hits?