Pete’s Dragon

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By Craig Joseph

I remember running downstairs on Christmas morning, aged 5, to find myself the recipient of my first record album: that which I’d begged Santa for, the soundtrack to the film, Pete’s Dragon.  To no one’s surprise, minutes after watching it on The Movie Channel, I’d fabricated an imaginary dragon of my own and began choreographing dance numbers with him in my bedroom.  How much easier my spectacle would play out with Mickey Rooney and Helen Reddy now blaring in the background!

Today, even with all of the advances in animation since Pete’s release – 3D, stop-gap, Claymation, CGI, Pixar and the like – there’s still, for me, a bit of awe and wonder at watching cartoon characters interact with real, flesh-and-blood, living human beings on the screen.  And I’m struck at how relatively short-lived this technique was in the cinematic world.  We have a few other Disney classics – Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (the only movie that turned up on both my and Tim’s lists – Angela Lansbury is a goddess), but that’s about it, unless you count Paula Abdul tap-dancing with an annoying cat.

I think that’s a shame, because my imagination was fueled then and is energized now by the thought that two different worlds – imaginary/invisible and real/physical can interact and intersect at certain points.  At 5, this notion sparked all sorts of imaginative play in me, resulting in, I’m certain, a career in theatre.  It’s also the genesis of how much good art comes into existence.  An idea, a feeling or a thought exists in the nether regions of an artist’s psyche and eventually manifests itself as a poem, painting, song or dance.  And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that religious faith is strengthened and undergirded by this same notion.  We come to believe that who we are and what we do is not all there is  – that we live in a world also subject to the activities of angels and demons, deities and forces, that occasionally reveal themselves like porpoises popping out of the ocean and then diving deep back under.

It’s perhaps too big of a leap, but I’m concerned with the movies, video games and technology of today that, in many cases, feed children a fully-formed fantasy world to escape to, instead of inviting them to partner in creating one that has touchpoints with reality.  If kids – and adults –aren’t taught to see the possibilities for magic, beauty and wonder right where they stand, we run the risk of becoming a society of people whose eyes are closed to the potential in nature, art, other people, and even mundane things transformed.  We live without alertness or anticipation, believing the world we live in to be empty and lifeless, living gray and drab lives or turning to addictions to liven them up and help us escape.  We need reminders that what we see is not all there is to reality – and an occasional classic childhood film can help bring this truth to mind.

 

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