Pete’s Dragon is a Bad Movie

Not the old version, mind you. The old Pete’s Dragon is great. Lighthearted fun, and drunk Mickey Rooney. It doesn’t get much better than that. Oh. And songs. The songs are great too. The original was so good, it makes you wonder why they felt there was a need to update it, other than money.

But I like money, and I can’t blame people for wanting to make some of their own. And some of the live adaptations of Disney films have been really solid, so why not?

The thing is, the end result in this case was pretty bad. What’s worse is that it there were a lot of good things surrounding the bad that made it that much more frustrating. The acting wasn’t terrible. The effects were great. There were pieces of a genuinely good movie and plot in there, so you could see that there might be something really awesome, if it all fell into place.

But it doesn’t.

The  movie is much more serious than the original. It’s got no songs. And it has no drunk Mickey Rooney. I’m okay with all of it in principle, but where it all goes horribly wrong is in the story. Denisa liked the movie, so perhaps some of this is just me being irritated that the plotting and characters were so poorly thrown together, since that’s something I look and try to do professionally.

The big problem: the characters served the plot to an extreme. (There’s going to be spoilers here, so if you don’t want to read those, move on.) There’s a character who’s basically only there to go for the stereotypical “I’m a man! I have a gun! I must shoot things and cut down trees and go catch a dragon!) And he somehow gets his hands on a whole bunch of tranquilizer guns and the darts to go with them, so he and a few friends go out to find that dragon in a place in the woods that took them hours to find, getting lost in the process (but magically finding their way back to their car in about 5 seconds when they needed to).

Fine. Whatever. They want the dragon, so they tranq the dragon up. And then somehow they move that dragon in the space of an hour or two (an afternoon at most) onto a huge truck. I have no idea how they managed to do this. They must have needed to cut down a whole mess of trees to have that happen, but then the trees are all still there when they go back. But never mind that. And never mind the fact that there were some other adults present who should have been telling them to stop.

Nope. They got the dragon back. And then they proceed to be stupid and bullheaded about keeping the dragon. (So they can . . . make money somehow? Unclear.)

The characterization problems aren’t limited to the idiot hunter. Nope, they extend to other characters as well. For example, Pete stays with a family for one evening. During that one evening, the dragon sees him reading a book with the fam, and concludes Pete doesn’t want him anymore. Fine. The dragon’s dense, I guess? But Bryce Dallas Howard also somehow becomes so attached to Pete in that one evening that she’s desperate to keep him. Who knows why.

That just keeps coming up in the movie again and again. Characters do things because that’s what they need to do in order for the plot to move forward. None of the payoffs are earned, but the music swells and the actors pretend they are.

A smaller problem: There’s a subtheme through the movie of evil loggers ruining the forest. But this is just thrown in here and there and not developed at all. This indicates to me that it was a bigger plot point in a different version, but it was edited out almost entirely, which is a symptom of a movie that has been drastically altered from what it used to be. Edited to make it into something else. I would like to see the original version, if it’s out there, to see what went on with it.

You can see this in the way the movie plays out its climax as well. There are three or four different points where it seems the problems are all solved. Three or four climaxes. But the movie just keeps on going. Keeps on having new resolutions. It doesn’t make any sense.

For a movie or book to really work, you need that suspension of disbelief. You need the audience to believe the characters might make decisions they way they’re portrayed. If they don’t, then it all falls apart. That’s what happened to me in this movie. Perhaps some of it was I was disappointed it was messing up a childhood favorite, but I’m usually good at separating myself from that. I think there were just little blips of issues at first, and they made me pay attention to the plot. Start looking at it critically.

By the end, I just wanted the movie to stop. 3/10. Go watch the original and save yourself 2 hours.

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