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| 16 September 2016 | Reply

Directed by David Lowery
Starring Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar


Disney’s modern retelling of the cult ‘70s kid’s film Pete’s Dragon is sure to polarise viewers. Queue on the left if you’re in the “a simple story filled with wonder and a joy to watch” category, on the right if you hold the “boring, over-simplistic, emotionally manipulative, cliché-ridden and presumptive” view.

All of the above are true of the film.

The plot is very basic: boy gets lost in forest, finds dragon, lives wild with dragon’s protection, eventually gets discovered, bad men try to capture dragon, there’s a showdown, everyone lives happily ever after.

That’s not to say Pete’s Dragon is a bad film. It’s just very one-dimensional. Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard and Karl Urban all bring their best, but there’s so little going on that they are pretty much wasted here.

The sheer presumption, too, that audiences will want to watch these over-baked tropes play out is staggering: the dragon (which is furry and more dog-like than any reptile ever before seen)’s environment is being threatened by rogue loggers. A man who is angry for no reason wants to capture the dragon, claiming it as his. That Pete can survive in the wild, undetected, for six years is far less of a surprise that he was never found when his parents’ car crashed, and that public services simply let him stay on with Howard and Urban’s family after he is assimilated into society again. There’s also the ‘civilisation versus wild’ subtext: from the first time we see Pete in the wild, all shaggy hair (and clothes which despite six years in the wild still miraculously fit and aren’t overly worn), we know that sooner rather than later the suits will give him a haircut, and sure enough, by the end of the film there he is, in all his conformist glory. It’s such a mainstream view of freedom that it provoked more anger in this reviewer than the endearment that was probably intended.

As a reviewer I am trying to take all this with a grain of salt: Disney’s fairy tales have been trading on this simplistic child’s view of the world for decades. Usually, though, they sprinkle a bit more magic dust on proceedings. Here the magic is thin on the ground, and Pete’s Dragon is sadly one to be relegated to the ‘kids only’ pile.

Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

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