Dragon(Disney, 2016) – Director: David
Lowery. Writers: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (s/p). Malcolm
Marmorstein (based on a screenplay by). Seton I. Miller, S.S. Field
(based on a story by). Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford,
Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Isiah Whitlock,
Jr., Marcus Henderson, Aaron Jackson, Phil Grieve, Steve Barr, Keagan
Carr Fransch, Jade Valour, Augustine Frizzell, & Francis Biggs.
Color, Rated PG, 103 minutes.
is one remake that was worth creating. The 1977 original only served
to reconfirm that Disney corporation could mix animated characters
with real-life people. But unlike Mary Poppins (1964),
it was a silly fantasy with a dragon goofier than Goofy and nowhere
near as funny. Today’s technology has provided us with a
dragon-sized dragon complete with a wingspread capable of true flight
to replace the pot-bellied caricature with the tiny pink wings. We
now have a story where we can put aside our disbelief and just enjoy
parents are driving their young son through the woods and explaining
an “adventure” to him when a deer leaps in front of the car. Dad
swerves and all we see is Pete’s reaction, securely strapped in, to
a car rolling over and landing on its roof. It’s a heart-breaking
moment when the two-year-old (we assume) cries when his parents do
not answer him but bravely packs his storybook into his back pack and
enters the woods. Strange sounds come from everywhere and he’s
beset by wolves. Just before they attack we hear the familiar
thudding walk of a giant creature (similar to the sound of the T-Rex
approaching in Jurassic Park). The wolves scatter and
Pete is confronted by a towering green, furry dragon. “Are you
going to eat me?” he asks. Wordlessly we know the dragon
communicates a no by putting out his left front paw palm up. Pete
climbs onto it and the dragon places him gently on his back.
six years later and loggers are working in the forest. Jack (Bentley)
and his brother Gavin (Urban) have continued operations in a section
of the woods they were not supposed to harvest and forest ranger
Grace (Howard) is there to point out the infringement. Her daughter
Natalie (Laurence) is with her, wandering around while Mom
remonstrates with the foreman.
eight years old, Pete (Fegley) watches from the cover of bushes.
Natalie spots him and chases him into the forest. They both climb a
tree and it’s not until a branch breaks and both go tumbling to the
ground that Grace hears her daughter’s screams. When Grace and Jack
race in to find her relatively unhurt, she explains that she was
chasing Pete and points him out. Pete is captured and the mystery
a prior scene, we heard Meacham (Redford), Grace’s Dad, telling the
children the stories of the “Millhaven Dragon,” and that he
himself saw it when he was young. This turns out to be the very
dragon whom Pete accredits his survival to and has named him “Elliot”
after the main character in his beloved book. Pete wants to get back
to Elliot because, “He gets scared when I’m gone,” but Grace
makes a deal with him. If he stays the night, she’ll take him
back to his “home” in the morning.
joins Natalie, Grace, and Pete to the section of forest where Grace
has never been. (She had claimed previously that, “I know this
forest like the back of my hand.”) The three are awestruck at the
huge, furry apparition that emerges from under a centuries-old tree,
but Natalie steps forward to pet it. Again, wonderful wordless
communication comes from the grunts, deep hums and throaty growls
from Elliot and they are all convinced he’s friendly. That is,
until Gavin bursts onto the scene. He’s terrified, scares Elliot
with his rifle, and Elliot does a classic “bend the rifle muzzle
back on itself” routine as Gavin retreats.
is undeterred, gathering the other loggers. Together, they sedate
Elliot, chain him onto a flatbed 18-wheeler, haul him out of the
forest, and lock him in a barn. But Gavin doesn’t know that Elliot
can make himself invisible and he does so when Sheriff Gene Dentler
(Whitlock Jr.) arrives. Pete and Natalie free Elliot and, with
Meacham at the wheel, break Elliot free and the chase is on.
new Pete’s Dragon is beautifully done, from the
superb special effect of the dragon to the musical soundtrack ranging
from tearful sadness to glorious themes in full flight. Both of the
children playing Pete are adorable and convincing. Robert Redford
does his usual spectacular job and Bryce Dallas Howard depicts the
perfect Mom/Naturalist/Protector. The rest of the cast are Disney
rubber stamps: predictable. But it’s Elliot who is amazing. The
models that were built for the close-ups reveal a facial mobility
that succeeds in projecting every emotion. I swore that at one moment
he was going to cry.
guess most New York children had already seen this film by the time I
got to it, but the ones that were there were enjoying it quietly and
without boredom. They were not scared when Elliot roared or breathed
fire. That’s what a dragon is supposed to do, right? But I would
also guess that covering him in luxuriant green fur makes him more
accessible than the scaly look of a medieval dragon, and he did have
distinctly dog-like features. (Remember Falcor in 1984’s The
NeverEnding Story?) It reminded me of things I said about Disney
films before The Black Hole (1979), where I first
saw bloodshed. Before then, it was “survival of the cutest” and
that phrase applies to this film as well. But beyond all that, it’s
a well-constructed movie with no dead spots, humor mixed in with
sadness, and a surprise at the end. I might even add it to my home
though this restaurant is across the street from Gabby O’Hara’s,
where I go to sing karaoke every Tuesday night, I have never eaten
there. The entrance, closer to Sixth Avenue, is garish, intensely
Broadway-style, featuring a nearly blinding yellow sign with Chinese
calligraphy in white and red.
Inside, however, the decor is much more
sedate, with everything in white walls with dark wood trim. The bar
has tasteful Chinese paper and wood swags over it with a large fish
tank containing tropical fish at the end of the bar.
server, Jay, a lovely young girl, took my cocktail order: the Lychee
Martini – Lychee-infused vodka, juice and simple syrup – because
I wanted a drink served in the arty glass I saw on their website. The
drink was deceivingly sweet, and contained two Lychees on a toothpick
as the garnish.
service is super-efficient and before I had time to page through the
food menu, Jay had opened it to appetizers. I chose Mini Crab Meat
Soup Buns. Jay advised me that the dish would take five minutes to
prepare and I assured her that I had all the time in the world.
Another server noticed the length of time I was without and asked if
I wanted to order. I assured her I had an appetizer order in. Jay
returned when I closed the menu and helped me with my second and main
courses. I chose a standard favorite of mine, Szechuan Sour and Spicy
Soup, which arrived almost immediately. It was good, but it was
standard, nothing special.
Mini Crab Meat Soup Buns arrived after I finished the soup,
beautifully presented in a light wooden steamer tray resting on a
leaf of lettuce and sided by a soy dipping sauce. Very good, but not
up to my benchmark for this dish.
a true wine list, I chose a glass of the house cabernet-sauvignon to
go with my main course. It was a nice red, medium bodied wine,
suitable to many purposes.
main dish was Fresh Frog with Pickled Ginger in Spicy Broth. I
spooned some onto my serving dish making sure to get as much frog as
I could find and started eating. I quickly realized they were not
kidding when they labeled this dish “spicy.” It was one of the
spiciest dishes I’ve ever had. As my eyes watered I enjoyed the
tender white frog meat, scallions and slender mushrooms, carefully
sipping my wine so as not to intensify the fire. When I mistook a
yellow chili pepper for a piece of meat, I learned that there were
three different kinds of chilies in the dish and soon was fishing
through the dish with the spoon for the three ingredients I could eat
without becoming a smoking volcano. It was most impressive, but the
spice killed the delicate flavor of the frog, and as the frog
was hacked into small pieces, each containing a bone or two, caution
was called for in the dining process.
I finished the cabernet and ordered a glass of the merlot to go with
the remaining rice and ingredients I could safely eat. A few relaxing
breaths later and I was ready for dessert. The Gold and Silvery Buns
were true “buns” (not like my appetizer). There were four
golden-brown fried and four pure white steamed buns stuffed with
almond and sesame paste respectively on either side of a
teardrop-shaped bowl of sweet, caramel dipping sauce.
fire was completely out and I was full. I think I will return, with
friends whom I know like exotic foods. Frankly, I’m after that
conch soup and tripe main dish. They do have dishes for people who
like regular Chinese food, which I would recommend for those too
squeamish for brains, intestines and fish maws. However, for those
who are adventurous, Savour Sichuan is the place.