Movin' On with Nellie: A lesson for every story


There’s a lesson for every movie & story we watch and read.

This weekend I watched the 2016 Disney version of Pete’s Dragon with Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, and Oakes Fegley who was the boy named Pete. One of the messages in the film sounded a lot like a message from Moby Dick (any version will do.)

One character in the Disney movie was out for the money and fame that capturing a green dragon would bring him. He was willing to get others to lie, cheat and steal for him. The young boy Pete was enamored with the whole of life and all of nature represented by Elliot, the dragon.

In Herman Melville’s tale of a whale named Moby Dick, Ishmael becomes the only soul who respects the great white whale, which represents all of nature in the tale of revenge.  Gavin (Karl Urban) the greedy brother in Pete’s Dragon is like Ahab in that he too is driven by revenge, money and fame to destroy the dragon.

Both tales are instructive tales about letting greed and narcissism override morality and decency. We see that Pete carries the movement in the story along with his grandfather, played by Robert Redford. Pete is lively, curious and trusting. He is open to the notion of worlds unseen which is exactly what nature is. Worlds unseen.

If you were to ask Bill Nye the Science Guy, I’m pretty sure he would agree because on first glance at any backyard one sees lawn and dirt. Not much to sneeze over or roll around on. It’s under closer inspection, perhaps even with a magnifying glass or a microscope, that the young would-be scientist discovers hidden creatures, the creepy crawly kind.

Raccoons, rabbits, hawks, eagles are just some of the wildlife we find in Colorado. But in back yards there are also those worms, “rolly-poly” bugs, ants, dragonflies, bees, caterpillars, butterflies, moths and in some backyards, a praying mantis or two. These species are hidden from our sight until we inspect closely.

Elliott, though mythical, gallops about like any undiscovered creature might and with those human qualities of thriving and growing. Moby Dick, the great white mystical whale, likewise, is swimming around minding his own business when the Pequod, the ship, comes upon him.

Moby is trying to live; but he is being harangued by a madman, none other than Ahab, the captain of the Pequod. Slaughtering the whales for the blubber, the fuel for lamps throughout the world and especially America, is a big operation. The reader finds that the sailors fall into the vat of sperm whale, knead the blubber and quickly wallow into their expensive finds. Herman Melville capitalized on the push to claim all of North America under Manifest Destiny and symbolically portrayed that in these chapters as the men caught and filleted the whales.

This destructive image is found in many tales of greed as in Ebenezer Scrooge counting the coins, King Midas hording, or the king in the story of Rumpelstiltskin. We see this notion in Lord of the Rings, as well, when the characters are pulled into the ring’s drama. More recently, we see a similar cautionary tale in Avatar and the destruction of forest.

Now when government movements are to abandon the Environmental Protection Agency and no longer safeguard forests, national parks, animals on the endangered list (and habitat), I find that Pete’s Dragon emboldens the cause to protect the earth. And parents, just so you know, this movie probably will make your children more aware of habitat issues over supper tonight.

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