Sunday, August 16, 2009

PETE'S DRAGON (High-Flying Edition)

Written by Senora Bicho

Pete’s Dragon
is a 1977 Disney musical that combines live-action with an animated Elliot the Dragon. Pete (Sean Marshall) is an orphan who was bought by the Gogan Family to be their slave. The Gogans are so mean to him he runs away with his best friend Elliott, who can turn invisible. They end up in the small fishing village of Passamaquoddy where Elliott starts trouble for Pete from the start. Most of the town wants Pete to leave except for lighthouse keeper Nora (Helen Reddy) and her father Lampie (Mickey Rooney), the town drunk, who try to make a stable home for him. Unfortunately just as Pete is getting settled, the Gogans and Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale), a traveling medicine show man, show up and try to break-up the happy home. The cast also includes Jim Backus, Red Buttons, Jeff Conway, and Shelly Winters.

Elliott has the ability to be invisible so most of the time he doesn’t appear in many scenes, which works since the combination of animation and live-action is more fantasy than reality and ties in with the idea that the adult characters think Elliott is Pete’s imaginary friend. That is until they meet him. Also, the animation of Elliot, supervised by Don Bluth, doesn’t blend well with the live action by today’s standards, but considering the advancement over three decades, the visuals are still pretty impressive. This is the first Disney film that didn’t contain work by any of the animators known as the Nine Old Men.

There are lots of fun song and dance numbers in the film. “Brazzle Dazzle Day” and “Candle on the Water,” which was nominated for an Academy Award, are the most well known. Helen Reddy performs “Candle on the Water” with the lighthouse as the backdrop. It is much more impactful watching it as an adult because the emotions are identifiable, and is the best moment of the film.

This “High-Flying Edition” includes several special features. “Brazzle Dazzle Special Effects” is a featurette narrated by an adult Marshall. This is very well done and provides an amazing opportunity to see the progress of special effects over the company’s history through a lot of rare behind-the-scenes footage. “Deleted Storyboard Sequence – ‘Terminus & Hoagy Hunt Elliot’” contains original sketches along with a rare demo track. “Original Song Concept ‘Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too)’” is the first demo recording of the song along with concept sketches. “Original Demo Recordings” and “Promotional Record” offer old and new versions of some of the more popular songs from the film. “Where’s Elliot? The Disappearing Dragon Game” is intended for the younger viewer to find Elliot who is hiding in Passamaquoddy. “About Pete’s Dragon” is presents the making of the movie. Last but not least, there are art galleries, trailers, the Donald Duck cartoon “Lighthouse Keeping,” “Disney Family Album (Excerpt)” is a look at an animator and “The Plausible Impossible 10/31/1956 (Excerpt)” looks at animation.

Pete’s Dragon is a sentimental favorite from my childhood, eliciting fond and happy memories. The songs and relationship between Pete and Elliott still make it a relevant film today. It is also a sweet and innocent tale that includes no gross or inappropriate humor, perfect for younger children.

DISTRICT 9 - Not an enjoyable place to visit

Written by Hombre Divertido

District 9
is an ambitious endeavor as it combines Alien Nation with The Fly against a backdrop of apartheid. Though the film contains a strong message, many members of the audience may not be around to hear it, as the ridiculous way the back-story is presented along with the buffoon of a lead character, will cause many to check out. With no characters for the audience to latch onto, there is little to re-engage them.

District 9 runs to the two extremes of gore and over-the-top, ridiculous characters, and fails to create much action or excitement.

As is explained in the opening segment of the film, a large alien ship has come to Earth and is hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa. After waiting for something to happen, the Earthlings eventually cut their way into the ship and find refugees from a dying planet. District 9 is set up as a makeshift home for the creatures. Over time the area becomes a slum and the local humans want something done with the unwelcome outsiders who resemble large insects or “Prawns” as they have come to be called. A large corporation is assigned the task of moving the aliens to another camp, but the corporation also has an interest in the alien weaponry.

Leading the task force assigned to relocate the aliens is Wikus van der Merwe, played with inconsistency by Sharlto Copley. The unqualified Wikus receives the job due to a promotion from his father-in-law who is an executive in the corporation. Far too much time is spent in the film showing us how ridiculous our lead character is, and this simply distracts from where the film should be going.

Wikus becomes infected with a chemical that slowly begins to turn him into an alien. During the process he becomes able to operate the alien weapons, which previously were unusable by humans. So the corporation wants to capture and exploit him, and he is left with only one place to hide: District 9. The problem is that the audience does not care about Wickus, around whom the story now revolves, because too much time was spent establishing him as an idiot. His transformation from human to alien takes far too long, is inconsistently displayed, and is simply not interesting or enjoyable to watch.

The biggest tragedy is how easily this could have been a great film. Better definition of protagonist and antagonist, a more relatable lead, any type of supporting characters, and some detail in plot development to add some truly suspenseful moments, and it’s all good.

District 9 does contain some good special effects, though the exploding bodies resulting in blood and guts’ hitting the camera lens becomes tired. The CGI aliens look great and blend perfectly into every scene.

The ending certainly leaves the story open to a sequel, but superior writing and directing would need to be employed to insure less contrived action sequences.

Recommendation: A movie with a strong thought-provoking message can be very valuable, but if so much focus is put on said message, that the basic necessities of a successful film are lost, then everyone's time has been wasted. District 9 is full of wasted potential and is sure to disappoint.