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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 5:37 pm | Partly Cloudy 54º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Pete’s Dragon’

3 Stars — Wholesome



The stories we teach children are full of analogies that are not understood until we reach adulthood. Although it is true that children understand such fantasies at a simple or concrete level, they are similar to the parables told by Jesus.

A child can understand the story of a man stopping to help another who was beaten and left to die beside the road as a story of compassion, but it is not until later in life that the racist implications of making the healer a minority Samaritan and those who did not stop to help religious leaders allows us to unlock the depth of Jesus’ tale.

The same is true of David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon. The simple story our children understand is only the first level of this wonderful story.

All of us, children and adults alike, struggle with knowing what to accept as true. This is true for Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose father, Meacham (Robert Redford), has told a tall tale her whole life of having once seen a dragon.

Being an empiricist who knows only what can be verified, she knows this cannot be true. Although a child may wonder if dragons really are true, for adults this tale presents a primary question every person must address: Is reality only that which can be verified or are there subjective experiences that are true even if it can not be objectively proven?

The classic example is that of love, which in this tale comes in the form of a fire-breathing, flying dragon. Is there a loving dragon in the world or not? And can that loving creature be hard to find and illusively invisible to those who have never experienced it?

The young boy who answers this question in the affirmative is Pete (Oakes Fegley).

Following a car crash that kills his parents, Pete is rescued by the dragon, whom he names Elliott. The orphaned boy lives for six years under Elliott’s care.

Elliott acts more as a big dog who grasps the deeper emotions Pete is experiencing, and both Pete and Elliott become exposed to danger as loggers move deeper and deeper into their secluded woods.

But the story is only superficially about the wonder and magic of the deeper forests that we need to protect. It is more a story about family, coming home and knowing who you are.

In this unique kind of “coming of age” film, Pete comes into contact with the very compassionate and gentle ranger whose father first told her of dragons.

Grace also brings into Pete’s life her fiancé, Jack (Wes Bentley), and his own young daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence). It is these relationships that bring both the tension and the resolution to this tale.

As is necessary in all such stories, there is a villain both ecologically and relationally named Gavin (Karl Urban). Greedy for both the trees of the forest and the wealth the capture of a dragon would bring, Gavin is a danger to Elliott and all who love him.

Life is full of the choices that this film presents, not only in its question or the veracity of something existing but also in the question of where we belong.

As is true of all such tales, this one has a happy ending, but life is not always so nice and certainly not so easily resolved. That is both a truth and an experience with which each of us also must deal.


» Do you enjoy a children’s movie that explores the deeper issues of life, or would you rather the storyline be more realistic and not so allegorical? Why do you answer as you do?

» The fact that Pete quickly became the caretaker of Elliott represents the growth a person has throughout their life. Though love first takes into its arms by surprise, we soon become love’s caretaker. How did you identify with the resolution of the film and Pete’s care of Elliott? How has this been true in your own development?

» The love that Gavin has for his brother, Jack, included a willingness to risk his life for him. This self-sacrifice demonstrates a complexity in our story’s villain. How are the villains in your own life’s story complex, or have you reduced them to caricatures?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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