This summer, Netflix's Stranger Things transported us from chaotic 2016 into 1983 fantasy. The mind-bender rolled E.T., Alien, Stand by Me, Pretty in Pink, The Thing, The Mist, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind into one warm hug of a TV series. As far as indulging in childhood nostalgia is concerned, Stranger Things was a four-course meal comprised of desserts.
Where do satisfied bingers turn to while they wait for Season 2? I see two options: look back to 30 years of classic sci-fi/horror movies, or look forward to this Friday, when Disney's Pete's Dragon ups the ante for timeless throwbacks. Reverence for the 1977 original (or a clue that the original exists) is not required; like Stranger Things, this movie channels Spielberg's adventure spirit and then soars higher with authentic sweetness and scares. If you grew up with a pet by your side, this movie will wreck you.
Set in a pocket of the Pacific Northwest during a blurred stretch of the early '80s, Pete's Dragon crouches down to see the world from a 10-year-old point of view. After his parents are killed in a car accident, Pete (Oakes Fegley) retreats to the woods, surviving under the wing of a doglike dragon named Elliot. Six years later, lumberers force the undomesticated boy into the hands of Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard from Jurassic World), a park ranger who must piece together his spectacular origin story before hunters discover and bag Elliot. Robert Redford plays the ranger's eccentric father, who saw the dragon decades earlier, and whose eye-glint alone makes the people around him believe in magic.
Pete's Dragon prioritizes atmosphere in the same way that Stranger Things does. You can imagine the "kiddie" version of this movie: precocious boy, fuming parental figures, farting dragon designed to produce plush toys, wacky roller-coaster ride through town. Luckily, director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) maintains composure. The kid actors behave their age. The family dynamics are rich and relatable. The land is real, and susceptible to 20,000lb creatures plowing through it. The picture emits a hazy streetlight glow, even when Pete's racing through the streets like an escaped convict or Elliot's torching a local bridge. The period setting intensifies the boy-and-his-dragon bond; in the age of Facebook bots and cloud-based music apps, a movie relying on compass navigation feels instantly romantic. I'm not a Luddite who wants a rotary phone; they just look good on camera!
Stranger Things made a thrilling case for the significance of John Carpenter, Stephen King, and genre fiction's masters, and Pete's Dragon does the same for storybook wonder, the difference being fallout. While the series drove you to the nearest Reddit threads looking for answers, this low-key Disney blockbuster will have you racing home to hug your cat and believe in the world again. Hope: it's not just for kids anymore!
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