Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Pete’s Dragon – Early Thoughts

Well compared to Sausage Party this is beauty incarnate.  On its own though it’s so okay it’s average. Spoilers within.

And I can totally talk about this film on its own, because unlike the other live action adaptations Disney has put out so far this has nothing to do with its 1977 counterpart outside of a dragon named Elliot and a boy named Pete.  The towns are different, the villains are different, the families are different, and so are the plots. 

It does share some similarities though with the throwback feel of a simpler time now lost.  A quiet fishing town in the first film, and the quiet sleepy lumber town here that appears to be taking place in the 80s judging by the cars and the total lack of cellphones.  Makes sense though considering if there was instant photos and videos this film would be over really quick.  It also shares a similarity of having way too many songs I think.  There’s a part where Pete is escaping from the hospital after being injured that I don’t think needs a song especially when another song follows it almost back to back.  The songs also don’t flow the way a musical should in terms of carrying the story.   

The story though is where things kind of fall apart for me, because it feels like the film got half way to something cool and then dropped the ball.  One of the stand out examples of this for me was our villain Gavin played by the always awesome Karl Urban.  Frankly Gavin needs more of an arc.  He is established as a character that doesn’t think things through.  He starts cutting in areas they aren’t supposed to cut just to get ahead with no thought to what happens down the road after everything is cut down and your supply and demand goes to crap.  Same thing with his hunt of Elliot as Grace’s father rightfully calls him on.  “You’ve caught him now what are you going to do with him?”  Gavin has no idea because he didn’t think that far ahead and that almost costs him his brother and future sister in law when they are trapped in the truck and Elliot is melting the bridge.  We also get to see that Gavin isn’t an uncaring asshole as he grabs the back of the truck to try and help them.  The problem for me is that there’s no follow up.  There’s no acknowledgment from Gavin that he screwed up, no glimpse of him doing better in the epilogue he’s just shown in the mill again, we don’t even get to see him hug his brother in relief that he didn’t die!

There’s also some cool ideas here that aren’t fully realized.  With the song ‘Go North Go North’ we get myths of the dragons, of where Elliot and his kind come from and that’s really neat.  The problem is that the song and wood carved dragons when we first hear it is all we get.   With Pete trying to adjust to civilization again after being in the woods for six years and Grace losing the magic if you will of being in the forest there’s a hint about losing childhood innocence and wonder.  It’s touched on when they all discover Elliot, but then is quickly dropped when Gavin comes in shooting.  With Grace and Jack there’s conflict between wanting to protect the forest and the economic needs of the town with the lumber mill being the staple of it and it doesn’t build up to anything either it’s just there. 

This film is missing a theme and a lot of character growth, and some very nice effects with Elliot turning invisible and good acting by the cast can’t make up for that.

Finally the choice of putting the intro credits at the back ala Star Wars is really starting to bother me.  For Star Wars it made sense because of the pan down that moves right into the action.  In Pirates of the Caribbean it worked, because you were setting up a creepy atmosphere.  You’re supposed to make these choices to enhance your film not just because you can.   I mean with the wood carving and the dragon song you could have some distinct credits like Bedknobs and Broomsticks instead we have a teaser opening as if movies and television aren’t allowed to be distinct anymore.

On the whole though this is a perfectly fine family film with nice effects, good acting, and that is completely separate from its predecessor so in my eyes it has a reason to exist outside of just being a remake for the sake of remaking things.   I just wish a little bit more time had gone in to establishing a theme and building up mythology and proper character arcs so the film could feel more fully formed.

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