Moved by Movies: "Pete's Dragon" to-do list edition
Poor Pete's Dragon. In a summer dominated by animated children's films like Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets, which both made bank at the domestic box office ($477 million and $338 million, respectively), something had to fail. And disappointingly, those somethings were the summer's gentler offerings: Pete's Dragon last week (my review here) and The BFG (my review here) before it, making only $27 million and $53 million domestic so far, respectively.
Pete's Dragon is, I think, a better version of the film Steven Spielberg wanted to make when he adapted Roald Dahl's classic children's book: a story about unlikely friendships between singular beings; about loneliness and societal rejection; about immediate fear of the unknown and an eventual acceptance of the unlikely. That all sounds depressing, and right up my alley! But I believe in the necessity of melancholy children's films, and I guess the disappointing returns for both The BFG and Pete's Dragon demonstrate that mass audiences don't share my whole-hearted embrace of sobbing throughout an entire goddamn movie. (Which is what I did during Pete's Dragon, of course.)
I was irritated by The BFG's tweaked ending from Dahl's original work, but I loved pretty much everything about Pete's Dragon, and I can't stop thinking about seeing it again. What resonated so much with me about Pete's Dragon is that its plot, cinematography, and overall aesthetic have inspired me to do other things, too -- like going outside! Me, a scarred-by-sunlight, afraid-to-venture-into-the-real-world writer! Gasp!
So, here is my to-do list inspired by Pete's Dragon. What should be on your to-do list, you ask? SEEING THE DAMN MOVIE SHOULD BE A START. You know, just so we can continue being friends.
INSPIRATION NO. 1: ADOPT A DOG
It was pretty obvious from most of the marketing for Pete's Dragon that the titular Elliot would be less Game of Thrones dragon and more, well, like a puppy. He's fluffy instead of scaley, he's bashful instead of aggressive, and his loyalty to Pete is unparalleled. When Elliot extends his paw to Pete when they first meet, initially as a sign of greeting and then as an invitation for friendship, it's a life-changing moment for both. If you've had a dog, you know that feeling -- and I want it in my life!
INSPIRATION NO. 2: GET YOURSELF TO A U.S. NATIONAL PARK
Pete's Dragon is purposefully fairly vague about its location and time period, but Millhaven is probably in the Pacific Northwest -- Oregon? -- during the late 1970s or early 1980s, and goddamn, does the movie make it look gorgeous. The forest scenes are spectacular, lush and layered and straight out of some Robert Frost poem you had to read in high school (yes, I kept thinking about how "nothing gold can stay"). So in this 100th anniversary year for the National Park Service, why don't you go outside? When the National Park Service celebrates its centennial on August 25, you should join in. Go on a hike. Go camping. Climb a tree. Find a a shady woodmill operation led by Karl Urban and go protest them. Watch reruns of Twin Peaks to try and follow the meandering subplot about the Packard Sawmill. JUST DO SOMETHING FOREST-RELATED.
INSPIRATION NO. 3: WATCH ROOM
Perhaps you thought that the young, long-haired boy starring in Pete's Dragon, Oakes Fegley, is the same child actor who was in Room, and you would be wrong. The boy from Room is Jacob Tremblay, and he is excellent, but Fegley is great too. Both young actors do a good job playing curious, impish, practically feral children who must suddenly and irreversibly acclimate to a different world from what they thought they knew. Room is not similar to Pete's Dragon in too many ways (well, aside from them both making practically nothing at the box office), but the strength of those main performances, and the sense of hope that ends each film, make them both worth watching.
INSPIRATION NO. 4: EXPLORE ROBERT REDFORD'S ELDER STATESMAN CATALOG
Is Robert Redford our last self-respecting actor of a certain age? Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Dustin Hoffman have all thrown themselves into increasingly poor comedies over the years, while Clint Eastwood has turned out be totally reprehensible during the past decade or so (let me remind you again of his "pussy generation" comments).
And yet Redford still seems to stand alone, lending his gravitas to worthy projects every so often, like 2015's Truth and 2013's All Is Lost. You should watch both of those, and 2001's Spy Game (rest in peace, Tony Scott), and then go back into his '70s heyday with All the President's Men, Three Days of the Condor, The Great Gatsby, and The Sting, and at that point you should just accept that watching Robert Redford movies is your life now, and cue up The Way We Were, and dig out Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and don't even get me started on The Natural. Then, once you've done all that, ruminate on Redford's quintessential Americanism and how he paved the way for actors like Brad Pitt to continue his legacy. What was Spy Game, honestly, if not a passing of the blonde torch?
There's this one scene in Pete's Dragon where Redford looks at his daughter, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, with this mixture of pride, wonder, and affection, and that elder statesman of Redford is totally fine by me. I mean, hot '70s Redford is also appreciated always, but in 2016, paternal Redford works wonders for Pete's Dragon.
INSPIRATION NO. 5: DAYDREAM ENDLESSLY ABOUT RUNNING MY FINGERS THROUGH WES BENTLEY'S GLORIOUS BEARD
Hey, boo. LET ME GET IN THERE.