Actually, just regular form. Yes, hello again my internet friends and internet lovers (you love the internet, I mean, not me – although hopefully you’ll come to love me. Eventually).
We’re back in action for another fresh review, this time on the actually correct day of Monday.
And what cinematic treat did I consume this week?
SUPER DISCLAIMER – I have not seen the original Pete’s Dragon. All I remember is the trailers on my old Disney VHS of The Return of Jafar (itself an undisputed classic if I’m honest). So if you are a mega-fan of the original and I am missing out vastly, please let me know in the comments and I will endeavour to check it out.
This here be reboot territory for Disney, and I was somewhat worried going in that I’d completely hate this film.
Instead, I found it to be… distinctly meh. Average. A thing I saw once. A toast sandwich. White rice on white bread.
Right, let’s get started.
The film opens with a car crash. Literally. The little boy that will grow up to be the titular Pete is reading his storybook about a lost dog (named Elliott – shock horror), and his parents, bathed in sepia tones, explain to him the meaning of the word “adventure”.
I know what you’re thinking, dear readers. How can this boy hope to be a Disney protagonist when his parents still live?
Well, fear not.
In a silent, slow-mo single close-up on an adorable child, two lives are brutally ended and so the journey towards meeting the dragon beg- Oh no wait, he’s literally right there immediately to the right of the screen.
Pete’s titular dragon is realised by professional Gollum-makers Weta Digital, and their work on the film is very much up to their usual standard – the dragon looks great, and retains a lot of the original’s quirkiness – jutting lower jaw, snaggleteeth, and most odd (and no doubt difficult to render) of all – green fur. That it keeps most of these traits while still more or less functioning in “the real world” is a testament to the designers.
I was however very surprised to see that the soon-to-be-named Elliott The Dragon does not, in fact, talk.
I had always assumed the original one did. Does he, dear readers? Is it sacrilege that this 2016 reboot has silenced our Elliott?
For what it’s worth, the creature effects are wonderfully expressive and the dragon hold’s it’s own against the human cast, led by Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban and HOLY SHIT IT’S ROBERT FUCKING REDFORD.
And, of course, the now post-opening-cretis-6-years-older Pete is played by the ridiculously named Oakes Fegley. Seriously, what the fuck, parents of Oakes Fegley. What is this kids name, exactly? Did you just fuck a Scrabble set across the room and see what happened? Did you microwave alphabet soup until it exploded and just went “That’ll do, kid”? Did you… etc etc. You get the picture.
Hipster parents need to be stopped. Remember Where the Wild Things Are? That kid was called Max Records. Seriously. Enough. You hate your kid. We get it.
Oakes Fegley (Gesundheit) is a mixed bag in the film. He’s really not very good when acting opposite a non-existent dragon (which seems like a harsh way of judging a small child but eh, whattayagonnado?) but is actually really quite natural around his human cast-mates and has some lovely moments throughout.
Anyhow, Bryce Dallas Howard plays a Park Ranger. Her dad is local eccentric Robert Redford. She is dating a Lumberjack played by Wes Bentley who I really can only ever see in American Beauty talking about flying plastic bags. Wes Bentley’s character has a brother, played by Karl Urban, and a daughter from a previous marriage, Natalie, played by child actor Oona Laurence – she’s really good and of course she is because she originated Matilda on Broadway.
One major bonus point I want to give Pete’s Dragon is this – it has a relatively unconventional “family” unit that the film treats as no big thing at all. A widower with a new wife-to-be, his daughter remembering her Mom fondly but being very accepting of her father’s new partner. It’s really not made a big deal of in the script, and the writing has the confidence of just presenting the characters’ reality and accepting it. It’s a really nice touch that I give props for!
As they discover the wild-child and attempt to rehabilitate him, Bryce goes to her father with a drawing Pete has made of his “imaginary friend” Elliott. Mr. Meachem had an experience with the dragon himself and is ostracised because of it. There is an absolutely beautiful monologue from Redford describing this meeting which is actually probably the highlight of the film.
Karl Urban goes full “McLeach” on us and thinks he can tranquilize the dragon and …. ???? ….. and profit, and the film descends into a fairly traditional “showdown on a bridge” climax where everyone realises the error of their ways and blah blah blah I’m sorry I’m in a coma now from the boredom.
Pete’s Dragon 2016 feels very much like two different films crammed together. One of them, an off-beat low budget small town Americana story , and other… well… a Disney Film with a giant Fuck-Off Dragon.
Director / Co-writer David Lowery is something of an indie darling, having apparently wowed Sundance with his previous film and this is his first major feature. The film has a strangely melancholic, laconic vibe throughout it’s “human” sections that are accompanied by country music, with long slow scenes that allow dialogue to run between characters uninterrupted, and such. For example, the two kids play a record at one point, and it’s an incredibly sweet and seemingly improvised moment. I imagine these touches comes from his end of the spectrum because… well, look at the guy.
He looks like an indie darling, alright. I have serious moustache envy.
But at the end of the day The Mouse prevails, and so Pete’s Dragon becomes a fairly rote and by-the-numbers (if low-key) summer kid’s film. I imagine that should come as no surprise, but it softened the film’s impact for me personally.
As such, unlike Suicide Squad (NO) and Nerve (Yes), I give Pete’s Dragon a hefty “MEH”. If it seems like your thing, by all means go and see it. But you’re not missing out on a lot.
You’re just missing a big green furry dragon.
And they’re two a penny these days.
I have seen the original but it was many many years ago. To the best of my recollection, Elliot does not talk in the original either. Really though, the only noteworthy things about the original are that Mickey Rooney is in it, and this song, which I think is a hugely unappreciated Disney classic.
The thing is that the cast is actually pretty great EXCEPT for the two main characters. But I enjoy every single one of the other characters, especially the villains.
And yes, Candle on the Water is an underappreciated classic. I just don’t like how it is used in the movie…it more or less puts the whole plot to a halt. In the German version it is sung as title song, which works way better if you ask me.
How is it sung as a title song in the German version? Did they just play it over the credits and then edit out the scene itself?
Basically, yes. In the US version, they play the instrumental version in the beginning, in the German version, the play the song, which works very well as foreshadowing to what is about to happen in the movie….while in the US version Nora first explain who Paul is and then sings this really long song while standing there like a statue. It’s really not well done, at least not Imho.
One day I guess I will need to write an article about the different versions and how the rearrangements of the songs and the cutting out of segments improved the pacing of the movie.
Concerning the question of Eliot did talk…kind of but not really. Here is a clip to explain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYT975dSm9c
concerning the question if the movie is worth watching…again, kind of. Here is the thing: The Version of the movie I grew up watching is worth it. But that version is very different from the US-Version in that it cut down on the musical numbers and some very silly dance scenes. Also, the dubbing really improved on the performance of some of the actors. The US-Version is overwrought and has pacing issues which kind of bury the story.
Here is the thing though: For all the faults the movie has, you can’t accuse it of being generic. Eliot is a very personal and creative character, the story is kind of corny but it is obvious that most of the actors do have fun with it (especially the Villains), and it is actually a really good commentary on “little village thinking”. So I would say it is worth a watch but don’t expect a masterpiece. There is one scene in a cave though which is, imho, a muss for animation fans.
I put salt, pepper and cumin in my toast sandwiches, delicious.