Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Director: David Lowery (2016) BBFC cert: PG

A soaringly sentimental adventure in the best Disney tradition, this fabulous family fable is a superior beast to the 1977 version.

This seamless combination of live action and state of the art CGI has sky high production values wrapped around its large loving heart and a story devoted to the values of family and friendship.

Kids will love the outdoorsy adventure and parents will have a surreptitious emotional moment behind their 3D glasses.

Oakes Fegley is wonderfully endearing as the eleven year old orphan Pete who lives in the forest with his best friend Elliot, a friendly dragon. The creature looks and acts like a giant green pet dog. Only with wings and the ability to breathe fire.

Elliot is Pete’s surrogate parent and protector, a King Kong sized Mary Poppins who has the power to turn invisible. Pete is a wild boy of the woods, a distant cousin of Mowgli from Disney’s Jungle Book (2016).

The immensely likeable Bryce Dallas Howard appears as Grace, a kindly Forest Ranger who doesn’t believe in dragons but does want to solve the mystery of Pete’s parents.

After starring in last year’s monster smash Jurassic World (2015) the actress is no stranger to working with enormous CGI beasts. They’re provided here by WETA Digital who won Oscars for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001-2003).

Robert Redford’s craggy avuncular charm is put to good use as Grace’s father, a man who claims to have once encountered a flying lizard.

Though set in USA, the tale is filmed in the lush and mystical mountains of New Zealand.  Kiwi actor Karl Urban stars as not especially villainous lumber mill owner Gavin. Discovering dragons are real, he wants to capture Elliot. But in trying to save Elliot, Pete risks losing his best friend forever.

It’s essential to the films success we believe the legendary dragon exists and so the film-makers have created a sense of mythic timelessness.

Elliot has a broken tooth and a scar, suggesting a creature of maturity and personal history. Interior scenes captured in a semi-sepia tone are sympathetic to the lush brown and green exteriors evocative of the myths of King Arthur.

Contributing also is the 1980s setting which sidesteps the issue of google optimised smart-phones. A folksy soundtrack is an appropriate and sensitive choice as themes of grief and reconciliation are tackled head on.

The result is we’re wrapped up in this huge warm hug of a movie much like Pete is by Elliot’s shaggy coat of hair. Take a flight on the wings of  Pete’s Dragon and you will believe he exists.


Jurassic World

Director: Colin Trevorrow (2015)

Strap yourself in for a prehistoric thrill-ride of fearsome fun as the theme park dinosaurs return in this bone-snapping action sequel.

Despite being very familiar this is a supremely confident and wildly entertaining monster movie, a determinedly old fashioned, family-friendly adventure with no sex, drugs, booze or rock and roll swearing to scare the parents.

Filmed on a budget conservatively guesstimated at a monstrous $150million, it’s a fast-paced and smartly scripted blend of expert SFX, exciting action and lovely comic moments. It’s everything last year’s Godzilla should have been but wasn’t.

Twenty years on from Jurassic Park (1993) Jurassic World is Jurassic Park IV in all but name. Rather than hiding from or ignoring the original film by rebooting the franchise, it openly and affectionately embraces it’s memory.

Dialogue openly refers to the previous disaster and T shirts and jeeps from the original park are incorporated into the action.

The central mall of the park is named after the avuncular scientist John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) who first extrapolated the dinosaur DNA from amber leading, to the resurrection of the dinosaurs.

It’s set once again on the idyllic tropical island of Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica. A new Jurassic World theme park has risen from the cold bones of the old one.

It’s bigger, glossier holiday experience with scientists experimenting with genetics to create beasts that are larger, more deadly and more cool. This maintains audience interest and attendance, boosts profits and keeps the shareholders happy.

Uptight corporate chief Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the park operations manager in charge of the safety of 20,000 customers. They are ferried around on monorails not dissimilar to the youthful utopia of Logan’s Run (1976).

Claire is horrified when avarice and hubris combine to unleash a Frankenstein’s monster to destroy this Babel of vacationing people.

The new star attraction Indominus rex escapes it’s heavily-guarded compound and rampages across the island towards the unsuspecting holidaymakers.

Genetically modified Indominus is driven by carnal desires to eat, hunt and mate. Fashioned in a test tube and reared in isolation, the beast is essentially insane; a reflection of the minds of those who created her.

It represents humanity gone wild, similar to the creature of the Id from Disney’s Forbidden Planet (1956).

Adding to her woes, Claire’s two young nephews Zach and Grey (Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins) are lost on the island.

So she recruits hunky velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to help her rescue them, defeat the beasts and restore the ordained natural order.

Employed as a dinosaur whisperer with his own pack of semi-trained velociraptors, Grady’s a tequila-loving, board-short sporting dude who lives in a beachside shack and repairs classic motorbikes in his spare time.

Meanwhile head of security Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) sees a financial opportunity in the chaos.

There’s a lot of bone crunching action as various red-shirts are despatched and the customers take a beating from mother nature in the form of  brilliantly rendered dinosaurs.

The work of dinosaur consultant Phil Tippett is brought magnificently to life by the effects powerhouse Industrial Light and Magic. Both worked extensively on the original film.

After his work on time-travel flick Safety Not Guaranteed the director Colin Trevorrow was handpicked by executive producer and director of Jurassic Park I and II, Steven Spielberg.

Barrelling through his story, the young protege has clearly been studying his master’s work. He fills the film with lovely moments using dripping blood and reflective surfaces to provide slow reveals and create tension. Plus he has a nice line in jokey misdirection.

An extensive sound department provide a terrific range of prehistoric roars and wince-inducing snapping and crunching noises.

There are quibbles if you want them. Official walkie-talkies frequently go on the fritz but cell phones work perfectly.

Though broken-family resolution is a common theme in most of Spielberg’s work, women’s careers, childlessness and impending divorce are directly identified here as the reasons for placing the boys in peril.

Based on the film’s trailer, Avengers director Joss Whedon’s offered unsolicited comments of Jurassic World’s presumed hoary sexist stereotypes. But his ‘she’s a stiff, he’s a life force‘ criticism is unfair and ill-judged

Whedon may have more justification being irked at the similarity the tech-savvy character Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson) has to space-pilot Wash in his sci-fi adventure Serenity (2005).

B.D. Wong is the only original cast member credited with returning but I believe there’s a one-line cameo from a now very famous face – if appearing only in silhouette.

There’s an unfortunate informal hierarchy among the supporting cast is but I doubt this is the result of any racism in the script/casting – more of an insight into the relative value the producer’s place on the different markets in the global market place.

It’s no reflection on the actor’s involved China and Asia are clearly more important markets than Africa.

While Indian actor Irrfan Khan appears as slick billionaire Simon Masrani and Asian-American B. D. Wong plays brilliant scientist Dr. Henry Wu, French-Senegalese Omar Sy is lumbered with playing Owen’s colleague Barry, an example of a ‘black best friend’ role recently derided by Brit actor David Oyewolo.

For a film set in Central America and filmed in Hawaii, there’s a lack of local faces except for a young, bored and undertrained ride operative.

It’s worth noting the script doesn’t suggest wealth and intelligence is a guarantor of morality.

As the self-confessed alpha male Grady, Pratt reins in the juvenile cocky exuberance from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and is all the more engaging for it.

He’s well cast in a role that demands he be smart, funny, charming and rugged; a leading man and action hero. It’s a shame then his character development is non-existent. He’s exactly the same at the beginning as at the end.

However his sparring partner Claire goes through a fundamental change through her experiences.

Beginning in a flawless starched white uniform and ending with a far more organic look, Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of director Ron) essays her character from perfectly presented management wonk to a gun-toting lioness and defender of her young.

Howard and Pratt share an enjoyable chemistry that is closer to squabbling jungle adventurers Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1982) rip-off Romancing The Stone (1984).

Without doubt the second best in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World is also the third best Indiana Jones movie.

It could easily be read as an extended audition by Pratt for a mooted reboot of Raiders (directed by Spielberg), donning the fedora of Harrison Ford as the whip-cracking professor Indiana Jones.

There’s a subplot where the military want to co-opt the scientific work and use it to replace soldiers and drones with dinosaurs. (A pigeon was awarded the Victoria Cross in WWII so it’s possibly not even the military’s most stupid moment.)

With a direct reference to The War on Terror, heavily armed soldiers are flown in and use an ops room for remote attacks as they try assert their dominance over nature.

Grady’s attempt to thwart the army’s desire to weaponise genetically modified dinosaurs is no different in essence to Indiana Jones racing to prevent Nazi’s using the Ark of the Covenant to win WWII. Both seek to use powers they can’t fathom.

Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park became the highest grossing film of all time, surpassing Spielberg’s own E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982) before being superseded in turn by Titanic (1997).

Two more sequels followed: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001) though only the first sequel was directed by Spielberg.

Unsurprisingly neither were as groundbreaking, well-received or as successful as the first. 

In 1996 Universal Studios opened in Universal Studios Hollywood and now following the recent fad for theme park rides turned movies, Tomorrowland, Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s now evolved into a movie again.

As a summer entertainment this meaty monster movie will be sure to tear chunks out of the box office competition.