The Movie Scab: Pete's Dragon, the best movie of the summer!
"The scab you're picking at is called execution."
--American film producer Scott Rudin.
Pete's Dragon: Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack!
So. It turns out that the best movie of the summer was an understated family film from Disney, a remake no less. To say that Monkey Boy and I were surprised is something of an understatement.
As we all know now, the summer movie season for 2016 is called the Big Summer of Suck because the movies were so damn bad a black hole formed and sucked the soul out of movies and movie lovers everywhere. That Hollywood crapped out bad movies isn’t anything unusual, of course, because it’s been squeezing bad movies out of its crap colon every summer for, it seems, millennia, one stinking piece of crap after another and another and another, plop, plop, plop. We’re all so used to it. We just go to the movies, lay our hard-earned money down and let them plop their crap all over us, making them richer and us poorer and--let’s be honest--stinkier. I think we like it now. We like being crapped on.
Thank you Hollywood.
But the big difference this season, when compared to previous summers, was the sheer number of poorly executed films, which explains why the black hole formed. The physics involved in regard to how it formed were not yet fully understood, however, until now. In point of fact, there was so much waste in Hollywood’s crap colon that it stuck to the interior wall like glue and plugged it up--this is known as fecal impaction. When you have an impacted colon, the feces is so unhealthy, made up of all the worst things you can imagine (just like the movies this summer), it hardens like concrete and blocks the colon like a crap dam, making it neigh impossible for the body to squeeze the crap out. Ergo, new waste starts backing up, one stinking piece of crap piled on another and another and another (just like the summer movie lineup) until the crap becomes so heavy it collapses under the weight of its own crappiness and then the colon explodes--this is known as the closing stage of fecal impaction or Fecal Impaction Closure (FIC). Hollywood produced so much bad crap this summer that its crap colon plugged up, backed up, collapsed under the weight of its own crappiness and then exploded, creating the black hole and the Big Summer of Suck.
Somehow Pete’s Dragon escaped the weight and gravity of the Big Summer of Suck and that’s an amazing feat when you think about the physics and amount of crap involved, as well as the moviemaking skill required for such a complicated gravity-assist maneuver.
How did they do it? How did Pete’s Dragon become the best Hollywood movie of the summer?
Well, the first thing that’s clear is Pete’s Dragon isn’t like any of the blockbuster summer movies, i.e., it’s not a piece of crap. It’s not excessive, pretentious, politically correct propaganda and it doesn’t treat the audience like we’re stupid. Even more to the point, it knows how to tell a story, how to create believable characters that have depth, and they make us care about those characters without smashing us in the face with the Aronofsky Obvious Sledgehammer. In other words, Pete’s Dragon is great storytelling.
That’s the main reason why the other summer movies failed.
Pete’s Dragon is so well told, in fact, that it almost made me believe in magic again. For me to say this is quite something, cynical as I’ve become.
What makes this even more of a miracle? It’s a remake. Monkey Boy and I hate remakes. Why? Because remakes are wholly unoriginal, sometimes unapologetic, unashamed plagiarism (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), which makes them boring, and above and beyond that they tend to be gratuitous, self-indulgent and hubristic, and by that I mean, remakers believe they can, and should, remake a movie because they can remake it better, even though the movie being remade was good. (Ghostbusters anyone? Wanna talk hubris? Oh! My! Ack!) By and large, remakes do not need to be made because the original versions are better. This cannot be said for the original version of Pete’s Dragon (1977).
Why? Because it’s crap! It’s an inferior Walt Disney musical from the 1970s that makes no sense today. It didn’t make any sense when it came out either. It’s so weird and confusing, and even heartless, I wondered if everyone making the movie was snorting cocaine and/or shooting heroin and just didn't give a damn. And maybe they were. It was the '70s, after all.
The original Pete's Dragon is the kind of musical that strains so hard to be likable and upbeat that it not only kills the heart and soul dead, but also sends it straight to hell.
It's about an irritating little prick named Pete, an orphan who smiles and sings for no good reason all the time (cocaine, heroin), even though he’s abused by dirty hillbillies (shades of Deliverance). When the hillbillies pull out their banjo and start squealing like pigs, the boy knows what’s coming and so an animated dragon shows up (cocaine, heroin). Turns out, the dragon’s name is Elliot and he’s there to help Pete get out of his troubles. He’s also dumber than a bag of ball-peen hammers and gets the boy in more trouble. The story spirals down into bizarre locations, situations and characters and big happy Disney dance numbers that make you remember, and wish for, the good musicals Walt Disney used to make--you know, like Mary Poppins.
And modern Disney wanted to remake this? What were they thinking?
For those of you who are fans of the original Pete’s Dragon, all I can say is, there’s something wrong with you. Go see a doctor and get it fixed before it appears on your mouth and lips, those so-called fever blisters. For the love of Pete, get a shot of penicillin and make it go away.
The new Pete’s Dragon is a miracle of modern Hollywood moviemaking. And let’s be honest, it’s kind of silly to call this a remake because it’s nothing like the original. In this story, it’s real life with real life consequences. Pete is orphaned after his parents are killed in a tragic accident, leaving him stranded in a scary forest with hungry animals that can kill him and then Elliot, the dragon, shows up and helps him survive.
There is no singing or dancing, not a single bit of forced happiness in this movie, and because of that it is a joy to watch and experience.
Who gets the credit for this wonderful creation? Director and co-screenwriter David Lowery and co-screenwriter Toby Halbrooks, that’s who. They’ve made a number of shorts and small films, the most notable being Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013). After seeing Pete’s Dragon, I understand why Disney hired them to make this movie. Understatement is the word that describes the way they make movies, but magic is closer to what they do. They are the antithesis of screenwriters like devout Disney disciple Linda Woolverton, who penned the awful, politically correct propaganda piece Maleficent (2014) and the financial box office disaster Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016). (But Disney keeps Woolverton in business. She’s hammering out Maleficent 2. Yay!)
Aside from steering clear of Disney PC, a refreshing choice in our socially regulated and censored times, there’s nothing over-the-top in the new Pete’s Dragon, no CGI visual excess, no ridiculous Hollywood denouement (like the Iron Man bit in The Martian, a Hollywood choice that dumbed-down the movie to the level of the kakapo, a large, flightless, nocturnal, ground-dwelling parrot from New Zealand that may be one of the dumbest creatures on the planet).
Pete’s Dragon is subtle, such stuff as dreams are made on (to steal from Shakespeare). There are powerful visual moments (when Pete and Elliot are alone in the forest, for example) that take your breath away simply because they’re so restrained. The dialogue is like that too, even the comedy. When they could go for the big, stupid joke? The don’t. They pass and keep it cool, calm and collected. And the screenwriters deal with serious issues like death, abandonment, what it means to be alone, family and survival. They take the topics and the story seriously, never turning to wink at the camera. Even though a CGI dragon that behaves like a lovable, loyal dog is a central character, Lowery and Halbrooks convince us he exists in the real world. That takes serious storytelling chops. Amazing.
The actors get some of the credit too. Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help, Jurassic World), Oakes Fegley (Pete, who is not an irritating little prick), Wes Bentley (American Beauty, Interstellar, Knight of Cups) and Karl Urban (Dredd, Star Trek Reboots) all work hard to keep it real, believable and fun. Urban gets an extra special nod because he’s one of the best good bad guys I’ve seen on the screen in a while, just a regular guy who loses his way--and only a little, and that choice for the bad guy in this movie is the smartest and best choice the writers could have made. At the end, even with the bad guy, it’s all about family, forgiveness, love and survival.
My rating: Knock back a Seven-headed Dragon shot, then do another just to keep your feet on the ground. That’s all you’ll need to enjoy this delightful movie. When you enter the theatre and the movie begins, if you had your doubts, well, you might start to believe in magic again.