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PETE’S DRAGON (USA 2016) **
Directed by David Lowery
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley
Review by Gilbert Seah
Like Disney’s last flop THE BFG directed by Steven Spielberg, this reboot of the live action Helen Reddy PETE’S DRAGON is a strong on special effects blockbuster fantasy lost in its special effects.
From the very start of the film, the audience sees young Pete (Oakes Fegley) in a car with his parents on his first camping adventure. “What does ‘adventure’ mean”? Pete questions innocently – the perfect question in a family film. Then, there is the overdone dialogue like the boy being told that he is he bravest person his mother knows. Pete is an orphan who meets his protective dragon. Disney’s version of death is a hazy slow-motion flying of things in the car as it crashes and kills Pete’s parents.
Pete lives 6 years in the woods with Elliot the dragon till he is discovered by ranger Grace Meecham (Bryce Dallas Howard). Robert Redford plays Grace’s father who claims he has seen a dragon in the woods when he was young. The film is set in the 80’s for no reason except that the original film was made in 1977.
The 1977 version and this version is largely different. The fishing community that adopts Pete is replaced by a hostile timber community. While the original was playful with songs and oddities which is a good sign for Disney’s formulaic label, this reboot is sentimental brown stuff.
More unbearable cutesy bits follow. If the dragon doesn’t fall from the sky to make funny faces, Elliot the dragon has this amazing cute look upon seeing a butterfly for the first time. Actors Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard have to constantly don astonished looks on their faces.
PETE’S DRAGON is fantasy given a realistic treatment. But the story is unimaginatively predictable and formulaic. From the very point Elliot, the dragon is captured, the audience can tell what is to happen next. Add in silly songs at all the inappropriate moments, unbearable cute bits and you have the perfect formulaic Disney movie – the sentimental feel-good film I always try to avoid.
PETE’S DARGON is director’s Lowery’s first big budget movie. Disney is good for recruiting talents like Lowery who will deliver their big beget formulaic and unimaginative films. Another example is Asian American Justin Lin who broke into the film scene with his breakthrough BETTER LUCK TOMORROW. Disney got him to make his biggest dud, ANNAPOLIS followed by the unimaginative FAST AND FURIOUS franchise.
But PETE’S DRAGON has its charm. That is if you are around the age of 6, the age of the kid and enamoured by fairy tales like befriending a giant dragon. Like the BFG where the girl has a big giant as her friend, the stories lead nowhere except to predictability land. At best, PETE’S DRAGON looks like a poor man’s version of E.T. At other times, it is cutesy Disney material aimed at the family and kids and ends up nothing more than a bore. There was a screening clash with this film. I should have gone to see SAUSAGE PARTY. At least that lewd film would have had more imagination.
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