Pete’s Dragon (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is that rare breed of remake that outshines the original. The 1977 film, about an orphaned boy who runs away from his abusive adoptive parents with a magical dragon, was a live action film with a bright cartoon character taking the part of the dragon. The dragon is no less animated in the 2016 version from David Lowery, an independent filmmaker helming his first big budget picture, but the film CGI creation has the weight and presence and personality of a living creature in a film that is deeper, richer, and more joyous.
Oakes Fegley is Pete, orphaned in a traumatic car wreck on a lonely Pacific Northwest highway (the emerald beauty of lush New Zealand forests stands in for the American north coast), and he’s adopted by a furry green forest dragon named Elliot, a veritable puppy the size of a dinosaur. Sweet, playful, loyal, protective, curious, and quiet rightly shy of humans, he can fly on a majestic set of wings and turn invisible and does both with regularity in his lively games with the barefoot wild boy Pete.
The endless days of innocence are interrupted when forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) rescues the smudged adolescent hermit and takes him in while they search for his parents and Elliot comes searching for his boy. Lowery, who also scripted, creates a sense of jeopardy without slipping into the darkness of the usual fantasy battle. There’s none of the evil or dark forces of the Harry Potter films here but Lowery does confront the powerful sense of loss and abandonment stirred up when Grace reintroduces Pete to the social world and Pete connects with Natalie (Oona Laurence), who is not simply his own age but a kindred soul. Pete’s memories of lost parents rise to the surface and Grace’s maternal instincts, which she’s been keeping at bay even while dating a man with his own kid, are fanned to life.
There’s an authentic gentleness to the story and a joyous thrill to the bucolic adventure. Elliot is a marvelous creation and Lowery reminds celebrates the wonder of his existence even as he gives him a physical presence in the film. Soaring through the air on the beating wings of Elliot is magic, an imaginary playmate in the flesh (or rather, the fur), and Lowery brings it to life in a way that honors both the imaginary and the natural.
It also stars Robert Redford is the kindly grandfather and retired ranger who has told stories of the dragon for decades to anyone who will listen. Curious that in a film that features a flying green dragon that turns invisible in games of hide-and-seek, Redford’s garrulous old coot is the least substantial character. The rest is a fantastical adventure that embraces the turmoil of emotions as well as the sheer glory of its dreamy spectacle.
On Blu-ray and DVD, with the supplements on the Blu-ray release: commentary by filmmaker David Lowery with co-screenwriter Toby Halbrooks and young stars Oakes Fegley and Oona Lawrence, a “Director’s Diary” featurette, a montage of “Disappearing” moments (deleted, alternate, and extended scenes), bloopers, two music videos, and additional bite-sized featurettes, as well bonus DVD and Ultraviolet HD copies of the film.
Pete’s Dragon [DVD]
Pete’s Dragon [Blu-ray]
Kubo and the Two Strings (Focus, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD), the feature directorial debut of animator and Laika president and CEO Travis Knight, is an epic of imagination steeped in Japanese culture and mythology and presented on a scale that is both intimate and expansive. It opens on two figures in tiny boat on stormy seas, tossed around like driftwood in a hurricane until the mother parts the waves with a commanding strum of her shamisen (a three-stringed instrument that could be a Japanese banjo) and they wash up on a beach where one-eyed infant Kubo is safely delivered. Years later, the adolescent Kubo is the master of the shamisen, telling stories to rapt audiences while colored sheets of paper fly out of his pack and fold themselves into origami figures that play out his tales of a brave samurai. Is it magic, or simply the magic of storytelling? Part of the wonder of Kubo is that it’s both, and that either way, it is astounding.
His stories (inspired by the tales his mother tells of his samurai father, who dies saving their lives) become the blueprint for his quest: to find the objects that will save him from his vengeful aunts (floating witches voiced by Rooney Mara) and his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), who is determined to have Kubo’s other eye. Watching over him are Monkey (Charlize Theron), a toy charm brought to life by the last of mother’s magic, and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), an earnest and loyal but easily distracted samurai turned into an insect by magic.
Like the Pixar films it is a storybook odyssey that tells a story of family and courage, but this one is also about loss and sacrifice, and about the power of stories and storytelling. The theater of the mind’s eye his origami figures represent to his human audiences become real when he sends them to battle a rattley skeleton with a pincushion skull or form a ship to sail a muslin sea (CGI flourishes add fluidity and foamy whitecaps to this arts-and-crafts creation), while the imagination of the animators embraces the essential fragility of these creations. A battle with his aunt systematically slices the ship to tatters, a gossamer thing of beauty dismantled by the embodiment of destruction, and every folded paper piece of Kubo’s magic ship has a distinctive texture and weight, just does every fold of a gown, panel of an insect-like wing, and plate in the armor invincible. I don’t mean to proclaim this superior to CGI but in the era of computer animation there is a joy in the crafted art of stop motion. Kubo and the Two Strings brings that art to a new level while telling a beautiful and touching story that acknowledges its sacrifices and losses as it celebrates its triumphs.
Blu-ray and DVD with the six-part documentary “Kubo’s Journey” (it runs just under 30 minutes all together), commentary by filmmaker Travis Knight, and two additional featurettes. The Blu-ray features bonus DVD and Ultraviolet HD copies of the film.
Kubo and the Two Strings [DVD]
Kubo and the Two Strings [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD]
Kubo and the Two Strings [Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD]
Steven Spielberg directs The BFG (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), the tale of orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the dreamcatching giant she names BFG (Mark Rylance), short for Big Friendly Giant. And though big to Sophie—he can carry her in the palm of his hand and set her on his shoulder, where she clings to his outsized ear—he’s a runt in Giant Country. He’s a gentle soul, a vegetarian in a land of brutes that eat human children (don’t worry, none are consumed in this film) and a dreamer in a culture of bullies, and Sophie is determined to save him from the bigger, nastier, and downright rude giants. Her plan involves the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and BFG’s expertise as a dream mixologist, concocting just the right balance of nightmares to win friends and influence enemies.
Adapted from Roald Dahl’s storybook fantasy, The BFG is a small story told on a magnificent scale. It’s adapted by Melissa Mathison, who wrote E.T. for Spielberg and Kundun for Martin Scorsese, and has all the resources of a Spielberg fantasy. And Spielberg brings both sense of wonder and a playfully childish sense of humor to the adventure, from Sophie’s nocturnal wanderings in the silent orphanage to BFG hiding in plain sight as he sneaks down London city streets. The first half is pure imagination, a fantasy land off the maps where giants sleep under carpets of sod and dreams frolic like Peter Pan fairies in a mirror world under a magical lake, but he slips in a streak giddy adolescent humor that finds a rollicking innocence in things other filmmakers might simply play off as rude fun. Rylance, who co-starred in Bridge of Spies, does the motion capture and warm voice for BFG and delights in the Dahl wordverse of made-up words (“whizzpopping” may just become your child’s new nickname for passing gas), mangled English, and imaginative exclamations.
This is slighter than E.T. but more satisfying than Hook or The Adventures of Tintin, more playful than emotionally moviing and a perfectly entertaining little fantasy from a filmmaker who can still tap into his inner child.
On Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray edition includes the 27-minute featurette “Bringing The BFG to Life” hosted by Ruby Barnhill, the six-minute “Melissa Mathison: A Tribute” to the screenwriter who passed away in 2015, and the shorter featurettes (all under five minutes) “The Big Friendly Giant and Me,” “Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of the BFG,” and “Giants 101,” plus bonus DVD and Ultraviolet HD copies of the film.
The BFG [DVD]
The BFG [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD]
Classics and Cult:
The Squid and the Whale (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
One-Eyed Jacks (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
To Live and Die in L.A.: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Rabid: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Driller Killer (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD)
C.H.U.D. (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD)
The Undying Monster (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Sacrifice! (Raro Video, Blu-ray, DVD)
Biggles: Adventures in Time (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Finders Keepers (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
T.A.M.I. Show / The T.N.T. Show (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXVII (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Russian Adventure (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD)
The Best of Cinerama (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD)
Moby Dick (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
I Want To Live! (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Pretty Poison (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Boston Strangler (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Moscow on the Hudson (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Gran Bollito (aka Black Journal) (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
TV on disc:
Soundbreaking (RLJ, Blu-ray, DVD)
House of Lies: The Final Season (Paramount, DVD)
Poldark: The Complete Second Season (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
Brief Encounters (Acorn, DVD)
Adventure Time: The Complete Sixth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
More new releases:
Hell or High Water (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
The Intervention (Paramount, DVD)
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Don’t Breathe (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Mechanic Resurrection (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, Ultra HD 4K, DVD)
War Dogs (Warner, Blu-ray, Ultra HD 4K, DVD)
Hands of Stone (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
Childhood of a Leader (MPI, DVD)
I.T. (IMES9, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Wild Life (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
White Girl (FilmRise, Blu-ray, DVD)
Baked in Brooklyn (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Yoga Hosers (Invincible, Blu-ray, DVD)
It’s All So Quiet (Big World, DVD)
Harry and Snowman (FilmRise, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Greasy Strangler (FilmRise, Blu-ray, DVD)