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A boy learns the power of a good story in this exceptional animated film

If you must blink, do it now.     
     So begins the story of young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson: Game of Thrones), a troubadour in ancient Japan. Each day in the square he tells fantastical tales of the Moon King and the brave warrior Hanzo who fights him. As he weaves his tale, Kubo plays his shamisen as origami to come to life to act out his story. Villagers gather to watch and shower Kubo with coins.
    The most fantastical thing about Kubo’s stories is that they are true.
    Kubo is the son of Hanzo the samurai. Kubo’s mother, a daughter of the Moon King, betrayed her father for Hanzo’s sake. The Moon King vanquished Hanzo, ripped out one of Kubo’s eyes and exiled his daughter.
    Kubo’s distraught mother arms him with three pieces of advice: Never take off his father’s robe, never go anywhere without his monkey charm and never stay out after sunset, when the Moon King can see.
    When Kubo breaks the rules, the Moon King and his loyal daughters descend on the village to find him and take his other eye. Only his father’s legendary armor can save him.
    In Kubo and the Two Strings, LAIKA studios has made a beautiful film about the power of stories and the strength we draw from family. The combination of CGI and stop-motion animation creates a unique and highly stylized look. Paired with visual effect is an innovative story that examines the role storytelling has in our lives, from the stories we tell about our families to the stories that record our history.
    LAIKA has quietly become one of the best animation studios around, posing a credible challenge to Pixar and Disney in both technology and storytelling. Director Travis Knight, LAIKA’s lead animator for years, makes his debut behind the camera with this finely detailed and ­beautifully rendered story of a boy’s quest for his origin story.
    A talented voice cast enhances the powerful visuals and intricate story. Charlize Theron (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) vocalizes a scene-stealing monkey, growling and threatening to keep Kubo safe. Matthew McConaughey (Free State of Jones) offers comic relief as the cursed samurai Beetle, who is filled with warmth and kindness though a ­little rattled.
    Wonderful as it is, Kubo and the Two Strings may not enthrall little ones. The story is complicated and has scary bits. Ages nine and up should be enchanted.
    LAIKA Studios has yet to have a feature-film misfire, with Kubo and the Two Strings a masterwork proving that animation is a medium powerful for more than amusing children.

Great Animation • PG • 101 mins.

Beauty of the sky a beast in the water

Dragonflies zoom and hover in the August air.
    These acrobatic fliers older than dinosaurs have populated the earth for more than 300 million years. They spend just a few months performing aerial feats of wonder after emerging from an underwater childhood lasting as long as four years.
    Female dragonflies lay their eggs in fresh water; the presence of dragonfly nymphs is an indicator of good water quality. The nymph looks nothing like the pretty fliers we love. It resembles an alien with large protruding jaws and segmented legs with claws.
    In air or water, dragonflies are merciless predators.
    As aquatic insects, they use their unique lower lip to engulf prey, even small fish. The lip’s elbow-like hinge allows it to bend so that the nymph can hold its prey while also holding fast to the stream bottom.
    The mature nymph swims to the surface, anchoring to a stem or root before metamorphosis. Unlike moths and butterflies, they need no cocoon in this stage.
    The transformed dragonfly is omnivorous, eating almost any other insect it can get its legs on, including other dragonflies and large butterflies as well as mosquitos.
    Maryland’s seven varieties are now buzzing around meadows and fields at an astonishing rate. ­Estimated to fly at speeds of 19 to 38 miles an hour, they are among the world’s fastest insects.
    From year to year, we may see any of the seven, from common blue dashers to green darners to dragon hunters. “Locally, some areas may show annual changes in the numbers of individuals within a specific species,” says Richard Orr, a state entomologist.
    The arrival of dragonflies coincides with blossoming corn, giving these insects a place in the mythology of native peoples. The Zuni tribe believes dragonflies bring blessings for fertile corn crops. The Hopi believe that dragonflies have the power to restore a poor corn crop and that their song warns of nearby danger. The Swiss believe that dragonflies came to earth to judge and retrieve bad souls. In Japan, dragonflies signify success in battle, and warriors adorned themselves with images of the insect to bring good fortune.
    While their time in the air may be brief, these winged warriors will make the most of the vanishing days of summer.

Why is this the state sport?

Maryland is the first state to have a designated state sport. Jousting became our sport in 1962, when State Sen. Henry J. Fowler Sr., a jouster from Southern Maryland, proposed the bill. The General Assembly passed the bill, and Gov. Millard Tawes signed it into law. Jousting became Maryland’s seventh state symbol, following the state flag, flower, song, tree, bird and seal.
    In 2004, Lacrosse became our official team sport. We now have 26 state symbols. The most recent, our state dessert, Smith Island Cake, and state exercise, walking, were approved in 2008.
    Jousting is the oldest equestrian sport, dating back to medieval times, when jousters tried to knock an opponent off a horse. The jousting practiced in Maryland is called ring jousting, with jousters trying to lance a series of ever-smaller rings hanging from arches down the field. The rings range from one-and-three-quarters inches to one-quarter inch in diameter.
    Jousters range in age from kids to seniors, many trying out the sport after seeing a tournament.
    “There are about 85 to 100 jousters in Maryland, living in all areas of the state, says Vicki Betts, president of the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association.
    She cites four prominent clubs: Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, The Western Maryland Jousting Club, The Amateur Club and The Eastern Shore Jousting Club.
    August 27 marks the 150th anniversary of the Calvert County Jousting Tournament, started in 1866 just after the Civil War. The sport is also part of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, opening this weekend. See 8 Days a Week.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

If you use this powerful herbicide, be sure you use it right

Roundup has its uses, but before you consider spraying the herbicide, you should know what it’s good for — how damaging it can be and where it does no good, even ill.
    Roundup kills plants by degrading the mitochondria in the roots. I began studying Roundup in 1976, when it was called glyphosate. Our research established rates of application, best time of application, plant response and phytotoxicity on desirable plants. Since then, we have learned a great deal more about Roundup and the care you should exercise when using it.
    • Never spray when the target weeds are under drought stress. To achieve effective control of weeds, the foliage should be mature. Leaves give a good indication of maturity. If 50 percent or more of the leaves on the weeds are fully grown, the Roundup will be absorbed and migrate down toward the roots. If fewer than half the leaves are mature, the Roundup will only burn the top growth. The weeds will generate new top growth from the crown or roots.
    • Never spray on smooth-barked tree trunks. Smooth bark can absorb the glyphosate, resulting in severe yellowing of the foliage, even death to the young tree
    • Avoid using Roundup to spray around raspberries, figs and other desirable plants that generate rhizomes. Roundup will travel through rhizomes to plants that have not been sprayed. This is why Roundup is so effective in controlling Bermuda grass or wiregrass.
    • Roundup should never come in contact with the roots of plants, including roots extending from the bottom of plant containers. Aggressively growing plants often send roots out through the drainage holes. The spray may affect and kill visible roots.
    • Roundup is not effective in controlling waxy foliage plants such as English ivy and vinca — unless fortified with either ammonium sulfate or household ammonia. The wax covering the leaves keeps the spray from penetrating into the leaf tissues. A teaspoon of ammonium sulfate or one tablespoon of household ammonia per gallon of spray enables the Roundup to penetrate into the leaf tissues and migrate down the vines to the roots. For best results, spray both English ivy and vinca in September.
    • Kudzu and bamboo are best controlled by spraying Roundup amended with ammonia or ammonium sulfate in mid- to late October before the first frost.
    • Brambles, honeysuckle and other weeds can be killed by using half to one-quarter the package-recommended concentration of Roundup in late September and early October. When sprayed late in the growing season, all the Roundup migrates down to the roots.


Share Your Harvest
    Vegetable gardens are feast or famine. Don’t let those zucchinis grow to baseball bat size or green or yellow beans form seeds in the pods, only to be discarded. Your local food pantry will gladly accept fresh fruit and vegetables. Food pantries as well as food banks are an excellent point of distribution that will benefit many. Many local churches operate food pantries. I give my surplus to the South County Assistant Network (SCAN), which operates a food bank every Thursday and Saturday from 8am to noon at St. James Episcopal Church on Rt. 2 near the intersection with Rt. 258 in Lothian.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Trotline your way to a pickin’ party

Heading out from the ramp in a late morning sortie for white perch, I encountered a solo crabber’s boat at the edge of the channel. He was pulling in his trotline from the stern and looked up as my skiff approached.
    Seeking info on the crab catch, I gave him the sign language gesture asking how he was doing (arms open and a questioning look on my face). Shaking his head. he indicated problems. I killed my engine and drifted closer.
    “My line got tangled first thing; It took almost an hour to get it cleared. Then the side of my basket broke open,” he indicated with a flip of his head toward the shattered pieces of a wooden bushel in the bow. “The crabs got out and they’re crawling all over the boat. I’m going home.”
    “Bad day then,” I answered.
    “No, a great day,” he replied. “I got almost a bushel already. I’m just tired of them trying to crawl up my legs.”
    I gave him a thumbs-up as I restarted my motor. He flashed a big grin and resumed retrieving his line.

Do It Yourself    
    Finally, a good year for crabbing. After three years of Maryland Department of Natural Resources promising that crab numbers were improving, they are. Bouncing back from the slow recovery of a female population once again driven into near collapse by commercial over-harvest, the recreational crabbing season is proving a good one.
    Recreational crabbers can once again expect to get a family crab dinner with their own hands in a reasonable day’s effort, though DNR continues to add constraints on recreational crabbers: no female harvest, reduced trot line length and delayed starting time (all to favor the commercial sector). There’s no better crab than what you yourself provide.
    Feasting on succulent blue crabs a mere two or three hours out of the water is one of the finest epicurean experiences a Marylander can have. Just about anyone can catch their own, with a minimum of equipment, although a boat of some kind (even a borrowed kayak) is required to get the job done with a trotline.
    The trotline is the best, most effective device for catching crabs in any quantity. Six hundred feet is the current legal maximum for one crabber. If you fix a chicken neck bait every four feet on your line, that’s 125 baits (about 10 pounds of necks).
    Motoring, paddling or quietly pulling yourself down the crab line and netting each crab as it lifts up from the bottom, you can now expect to fill a basket in under a day. Starting early is the key as the crabs will usually stop moving to feed by about 11am and won’t start up again until later in the afternoon. On cloudy days, the bite may stay steady.
    Anchored on either end and marked by identical buoys, the trotline is kept on the bottom by about three feet of galvanized chain on each end. Constantly running the line with a wire-basket net will maximize the catch you will accumulate in the traditional split-wood bushel basket. The current minimum size for a male crab is 5¼ inches.
    Choose a day with a good tide running right from the start, for crabs move with the tidal current, and you need a steadily moving crab population to keep your trot line producing.
    If you’re not catching and the tidal current is moving, try another location. The one you’re at is probably not going to work.
    Area sports stores or crabbing stores offer the most affordable supply of line for crabbing and can fill in the details of just how to set it up, how to tie the slip knot for the chicken necks and the current depth where crabs are being found (right now it’s between six and 10 feet). They’ll also have a ready supply of chicken necks and the proper nets, anchors and floats.
    Crabs inhabit just about every body of water that feeds the Chesapeake. As long as you’ve got a good run of water (i.e., 600 feet) of the proper depth you have an excellent likelihood of catching Mr. (but not Mrs.) Blue Crab.

Precious time is ticking away

This time of year makes you think like that.    
    If seasons had clocks to tell the passing of their days, we’d read the numbers 8:25 with advancing insight.
    Ah, it’s getting late, we’d think. Insects have struck up their string and tympanic bands. Even early in the day, the light has a melancholy radiance that reminds me of the lost moments of old photographs. School busses are rolling and kids waking with the sun rather than noonish. Sunsets are getting ­earlier, 7:45ish, meaning we’ve shot past the coincidence of calendar time and sunset time toward longer hours of darkness.
    But, we’d say, it’s not too late yet.
    Late summer has arrived as a blessing, sweetening our temperaments, ending our ennui and letting us go out to play. Temperatures are blissful and, after two months of stewing, we’re comfortable in our skins and in our world. Meteorological summer has still a month to go, while astronomical summer is ours until Sept. 22.
    Seize the day, seize the season, seize the hour.
    To guide the way, our paper this week is full of fun-seizing opportunity.
    To find out who’s now pushing the edge of the envelope in live music, read The Kids Are Alright. In that scene-setting story, contributor Selene San Felice, who’ll graduate college this year, introduces her generation of musicians. (Bonus points to readers who pick up the hidden references in this paragraph.)
    For a broader range in tastes and times, you’ll find more music in 8 Days a Week’s wide-ranging, weeklong listing of concerts and club dates.
    If your taste is Victorian, this Thursday is your night, when Jane Austen’s songbook is opened at Hammond-Harwood House.
    If hard-rocking outdoors summer concerts staged like mini-festivals are your thing, Friday is your night, when Goo Goo Dolls and Collective Soul play at Calvert Marine Museum.
    On a more intimate scale, most every night is your night to sit at the Tiki bar or on the beach to hear who’s up at Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa’s classic bandshell.
    You’ll still find concerts in the park this week, too.
    Beyond music, 8 Days a Week guides you — and all the ages in your family — to dozens of ways to seize the season.
    If you’re of age, how about Saturday at Goshen Farm, with wine-tasting, noshes and jazz to benefit the historic farm?
    August 27 is a late-summer day offering too many good things to make your choices easy. You could watch jousting at Calvert’s 150th festival dedicated to Maryland’s state sport and country pleasures. Learn more about jousting in this week Chesapeake Curiosities on page 4.
    Or join the Beaches & Bay Breezes Festival in Annapolis.
    Or hit the opening weekend of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
    Or cheer on dragon boats racing in Solomons. (Do you think the Chinese will adopt skipjack racing?)
    Or learn to fly fish in saltwater with the West & Rhode Riverkeeper and the Free State Fly Fishers Club.
    That’s just a taste of Saturday. 8 Days a Week brings you seven more days full of opportunity every week.
    I know. At this time of year, you want to do it all.
    I’m sorry to burden you with so many choices. But keeping you active in life in Chesapeake Country is what we do, weekly, at Bay Weekly.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

How some of the world’s most famous art found safe refuge in early-America’s Annapolis

You’d want to know if you were neighbor to a secret treasure of masterpieces.
    So I’m telling you.
    Sixty-three paintings by great Northern European masters — Jan Breughel, Rubens and Van Dyck among them — lived quietly in Annapolis for two years, and Prince George’s County for 16 more years.
    “There was no collection of old master paintings remotely like it in this country,” says Arthur Wheelock curator of northern baroque paintings at the National Gallery of Art. “In fact, in both quality and quantity, no collection of Flemish art in this country would rival it until late in the 20th century.”


    They were here, and then they were gone.
    What were they doing here?
    Where are they now? That’s the mystery that obsesses Susan Pearl.

On the Run
    To unravel that mystery, return in time to 1794, when the newly independent United States of America was a safer haven than war-tossed Europe.
    As ripples from the French revolution threatened Antwerp, art collector Henri Stier fled.
    “He got the paintings and his family out,” recounts historian Pearl.
    By horse and carriage and by sailing ship, family and the art collected by Steir’s grandfather-in-law, Michel Peeters, traveled: 63 paintings protected in heavy wooden crates.
    At the core of the collection were, Wheelock says, “masterpieces by Flemish artists, although it also included paintings by, among others, Jacob van Ruysdael, Rembrandt, Titian and Tintoretto. The collection contained no fewer than 10 paintings by Rubens and six by Van Dyck.”
    The displaced Belgian family and their paintings took up residence for two years in Annapolis, renting the William Paca House.
    At the time “there was good society here, very fashionable, with lots of parties,” says Historic Annapolis curator of collections Pandora Hess. Henri Stier’s young daughter Rosalie and George Calvert met and married there.
    But the paintings remained a secret treasure.

Hidden in the New World
    Stier, an aristocrat who owned three homes in Belgium, had landed ambitions in the New World. He bought 800 acres in the Anacostia watershed, near the port town of Bladensburg. But before his house was finished, he was back in Belgium. In 1803, Riversdale became the home of Henri’s daughter Rosalie and her husband George Calvert, of Maryland’s founding family. The plantation gained renown, but not the paintings. They remained a family secret.
    From 1794 to 1816, the paintings stayed crated, lifted out only to be wiped clean of mold, shown to just a few artists. Only a few of the smaller paintings were hanging in one parlor and seen by visitors.
    Nobody saw them. Nobody enjoyed them.
    Then Napoleon met his Waterloo, and Europe was again safe.
    Send the paintings home, Henri wrote his daughter in December 1815. His letter traveled by ship. She received it in February. Ever dutiful, she planned their journey home.
    They’d have left unseen were it not for the pleas of American painters Rembrandt Peale and Gilbert Stuart. At Paca House and Riversdale to paint the family, they’d had peeks at the paintings. Peale wrote that Stier “had placed before me three excellent portraits, by Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck, as objects of inspiration for a young artist.”
    Convinced by these artists “that it would be a public wrong that such a collection of pictures — the like of which had never been in America — should pass out of the country entirely unenjoyed,” George and Rosalie Calvert opened their house. In the spring of 1816, Washington society mingled with artists and collectors at the first blockbuster art exhibit in this country.
    “Some of the finest paintings ever in America,” they were called by Sarah Gales Seaton, wife of the co-editor of the National Intelligencer.
    On June 2, 1816, the paintings were again crated to repeat their journey by horse-drawn carriage, then by ship from Baltimore to Antwerp.
    They crossed the Atlantic a second time aboard the sailing ship Oscar, subject to tempest, predation and shipwreck.
    They survived the crossing. What became of them then?
    Tracking the 63 keeps Pearl busy.

The Wide World Over
    Pearl’s quest began in her office. She worked upstairs in the mansion before it was restored as Riversdale House Museum. Her job — researching historic structures for Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission — bumped her into the secret treasure.
    Original letters and papers told her part of the story. The more she learned, the more she wanted to know.
    What had become of them? Where were they now?
    “Finally, I hit the gold mine,” she told me. A genealogist hired by Henri Stier’s fifth-generation descendants shared copies of the “masses of letters” back and forth across the Atlantic.
    With letters, a sketchy packing list — written as family hastened to escape French armies in 1794 — and a catalogue of sales, she set about tracing their post-American journeys.
    Art is long; life is short. The owners died, but the paintings thrived, increasing in value with age.
    Each owner’s death led to an auction that disbursed the paintings more widely. At their sale in 1817, Henri Stier bought his 20 favorites from the collection that had been at Riversdale. His death in 1821 returned one painting to Riversdale. George Calvert — widower of Rosalie, who died three months before her father — purchased Rubens’ Romulus and Remus. That painting crossed the Atlantic a third time.
    Cross-checking list after list with the original packing manifesto, Pearl has successfully traced 20 of the 63 paintings that had long ago found refuge in Chesapeake Country. They are the most prominent and valuable ones, mostly kept in the family.    
    “I find it amazing how much information about that collection one can pull together from the packing list, Rembrandt Peale’s account and descriptions of the works in subsequent sales,” Wheelock said.
    Romulus and Remus continued in the American Stiers’ family and is now in the keeping of the North Carolina Museum of Art.
    Two more are in America: Rubens’ painting of his brother Philippe in the Detroit Institute of Art and Jan Brueghel’s wonderful The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
    The Van Dyck portraits of Philippe LeRoy and his bride Marie de Raet hang in the Wallace Collection in London.
    At the outbreak of World War II, several paintings owned by the European branch of the family found sanctuary in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, where they remain.
    Pearl has seen almost all 20.
    “Twenty out of 63 doesn’t sound like a lot,” Pearl says, “but it actually is, considering what you have to do to track them down.”
    As for the others, she says, “I’ll probably be working on it for the rest of my life.”

See for Yourself
    Here it is 2016, the bicentennial of Michel Peeters’ collection’s departure from America.
    And here they are, 16 of the found paintings of the original 63, on exhibit again at Riversdale.
    “Of course we couldn’t get the originals,” Pearl admits.
    Masterpieces are not loaned to county museums with neither security nor ideal air and lighting conditions. Instead the museum purchased high-resolution digital images that, printed and framed locally, now hang throughout the Riversdale House Museum.
    “The exhibit is a wonderful way to step back in time, envision the original paintings and feel the excitement visitors experienced when world-class Old Master paintings were publicly displayed in Riversdale Mansion in the spring of 1816,” said Carol Benson, director of Anne Arundel County’s Four Rivers Heritage Area.
    Docents lead tours, “electronically enhanced” with hand-held tablets that interpret and enlarge paintings for inspection of detail (though connections are temperamental).
    It’s a sight worth seeing, especially now that you know the story.


    Open Friday and Sunday 12:15-3:15pm thru Oct. 23. (On Sunday, Sept. 18, a University of Maryland quintet plays Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition): $5 w/age discounts: 301-864-0420; riversdale@pgparks.com.
    Copies of the Stier-Calvert correspondence are held in the Riversdale Historical Society archives.

Summer sends these insects singing

Heat wave temperatures may not have us humans singing for the joy of life, but that’s not the case for several insect species that voice their appreciation of the heat this time of year.
    Late summer’s exceptionally warm days drive the cicadas (also called harvest flies) to start their singing early. The buzzing is the quintessential sound of summer and how this cicada earned its name. The hot and humid days of late July and August draw the males into the treetops to vibrate a drum-like abdominal membrane called a tymbal to call potential mates to their location.
    These black and green dog-day cicadas differ from the giant 13- and 17-year broods that emerge out of the ground by the billions every few years. The Brood V 17-year cicadas emerged this spring in Western Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Our portion of Chesapeake Country missed them.
    Periodical cicadas survive by sheer numbers, while the annual dog-day cicadas rely on camouflage and speed to avoid predation. They are a favorite snack for birds, snakes and the cicada-killer wasp.
    After mating, the female dog-day uses her ovipositor to cut open a twig and lay eggs inside. Six weeks later, the nymphs hatch and burrow into the ground where they will live for three years, sucking juice from tree roots.
    It’s summer’s musical finale, so enjoy it.

Chesapeake Curiosities: Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is the northernmost of its kind

A habitat unique in Maryland flourishes just south of Prince Frederick. Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is one of the nation’s northernmost naturally occurring stands of bald cypress trees.
    “It’s actually a bit of a mystery why the swamp is here, as we don’t see similar stands of trees in other low-lying swampy areas of the county,” says Shannon Steele, Calvert County naturalist.
    In 1957, the Nature Conservancy purchased 100 acres of land to protect the unusual ecosystem. Today, a boardwalk brings you into the habitat, crossing about 10 acres of the swamp. The park encompasses most of the remaining cypress stand, but some trees remain on nearby private property.
    Delaware has another stand of cypress trees on the Eastern Shore in Trap Pond State Park.
    Some of ­Battle Creek’s cypress are ex­tremely old. “The oldest tree we know of is around 500 years old,” Steele says. This tree can’t be seen from the main boardwalk, but you can visit it on an annual guided hike (calvertparks.org).
    Bald cypress trees are interesting in that they are deciduous conifers, meaning that they have needles like an evergreen but drop those needles in the fall just as oaks and maples lose their leaves. Cypress also grow knees, root system knobs that grow up out of the soil rather than staying underground.
    “The function of these growths is something of a mystery,” according to the Arbor Day Foundation, “although some believe it is a way to help the roots get oxygen.”
    Cypress provide valuable habitat to many creatures, especially the prothonotary warbler, a small yellow bird that likes to nest in the trees’ knees.
    As for the name, Battle Creek is the small stream that flows through the park, named in honor of the town of Battle, England, the ancestral home of the original owners of the land.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.
 

This stunning Disney remake features a ­charming dragon and a good moral

Forest Ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard: Jurassic World) has found many strange things in the wood. The oddest of all might be Pete (Oakes Fegley: Person of Interest), a bedraggled 10-year-old who’s lived for five years in the forest after his parents’ death.
    Pete had help surviving the wolves and cold. He credits his friend Elliot, who he describes as a giant green dragon.
    Perhaps Pete’s story is the product of a traumatized imagination. But Grace has heard dragon tales from her father (Robert Redford: Truth). As she investigates, lumberjack Gavin (Karl Urban: Star Trek Beyond) discovers Elliot in all his emerald glory.
    Can Grace and Pete save Elliot before hunters find him?
    Pete’s Dragon is a charming family film, with lots of heart about conservation, family and the power of magic. A remake of the 1977 Disney flick of the same name, this version takes some of the silliness out by setting it as a story about land encroachment: Elliot is running out of forest, imperiled by humanity.
    Director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) makes the human world dangerous. Back in civilization, Pete is overwhelmed by noise and smog. Little wonder he wants to return to the forest with Elliot, where landscapes are lush and life is simple. It’s an effective ploy, one that even smaller viewers will understand, and a clever way for Lowery to emphasize the beauty of nature and the danger of the unchecked development of natural resources.
    To promote his parable, Lowery has employed an exceptionally charming dragon. Elliot has the rectangular head of a Chinese dragon, the massive body of a dinosaur and a covering of thick green fur. He likes to romp, fly and make mischief in the woods. In essence, he’s a humongous dog, filled with guileless enthusiasm and curiosity that make him the clear star of the film.
    As Pete, Fegley acquits himself well. He looks more at home in the woods than in Grace’s home. He and fellow child actor Oona Laurence (Bad Moms) walk the line between innocence and wisdom, never pushing too far in either direction. It’s rare to find one qualified child actor in a film; to find two almost seems as magical as finding a dragon in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.
    Though visually stunning, Pete’s Dragon may not hold the attention of small viewers. The plot and many of the themes are meant for children a bit older, so don’t be surprised if your five-year-old seems bored whenever Elliot is not on screen. There’s also a very dramatic attempt to capture Elliot that may be upsetting to young viewers. Consider the sensitivity level of your child before buying tickets.
    An excellent option for ages seven and up as well as a wonderful reminder to adults that magic lives in the beauty of nature.

Good kid’s fantasy • PG • 103 mins.