Warning: this post contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers.
I needed a break from politics, so I decided to read a book about a kid and his dragon. What better than the junior novelization of a Disney Movie?
Pete’s Dragon is a remake of the 1970s Disney live-action/animation mix of the same name. I saw the preview before finding Dory, thought it looked awesome, and so picked up the book-version. I assume that the book follows the movie’s plot accurately, though I do not expect it to capture the full cinematic experience.
Within the first chapter, that “awesome” feeling had diminished and I had the sinking feeling that the story was going to end with a generic, “kid goes to live among humans again” ending. And it did.
But let’s run through from the beginning:
5 year old Pete is on adventure with his parents in the woods when his dad crashes the car into a tree. His parents die. Pete emerges from the wreck, gets chased by wolves, and is saved by a big, shaggy dragon.
6 years later, Pete and the dragon (named Elliot) are best friends and run around the woods having fun, in a scene that I assume is spectacular in the movie.
The story then switches to the perspective of a bunch of grownups, each with their own plot and character arc. Mr. Meacham (IIRC) is an old guy who tells dragon stories to the local kids. His (grown) daughter, a forest ranger, doesn’t believe him. The forest ranger’s boyfriend has a brother who is a bumbling, vaguely evil logger who is illegally logging trees in the forest. The forest ranger, instead of arresting him for illegal logging, (which is what I assume happens when a forest ranger catches you illegally chopping down trees,) complains to her boyfriend that he’s not stopping his brother. He fails to stop his brother because he’s also useless.
To this cast of 6 (Pete, Elliot, Meacham, Forest Ranger, Boyfriend, and Brother,) we now add another eleven-year-old kid, Natalie. The Boyfriend is Natalie’s dad and he has for some reason brought her to the logging site in the woods, where she wanders around unsupervised while people chop down trees because that isn’t dangerous or anything.
Natalie notices Pete and the grown-ups catch him. Pete wakes up in the hospital, freaks out, and escapes in what I assume is another fun sequence in the movie. The grown-ups recapture him and the forest ranger and her boyfriend take him home, where they tame him with PBJ sandwiches and cookies.
Pete draws pictures of Elliot and promises to take his new friends to meet Elliot in the morning.
Meanwhile, Elliot has been looking everywhere for Pete. He follows Pete’s scent to the house where he’s staying, looks in the window, and decides that Pete has found a new family and doesn’t need him anymore. Elliot goes home.
Meanwhile, Forest Ranger lady is conflicted because she promised Pete she’d take him back to the woods to Elliot, who might be a dragon and might prove that her dad was right all along, but legally she’s required to take him to Child Protective Services. Finally she decides to take him to Elliot.
The Bumbling Brother shows up and shoots the dragon. With a gun. (With tranquilizer darts.) While Forest Ranger lady, Pete, Natalie, and Mr. Meacham are standing next to it. After the dragon collapses, the brother dances around proclaiming his success and no one punches him in the face, even though he could have killed them all (tranquilizers darts intended to bring down massive animals are potentially really bad if they hit children.)
The Bumbling Brother abducts the unconscious dragon, the grownups are useless, and Pete and Natalie (and Mr. Meacham) save the dragon. There’s a dramatic chase scene, at the end of which the Brother redeems himself by saving the Boyfriend and Forest Ranger’s lives.
Pete and the dragon escape back to the woods, where Pete suddenly decides that he doesn’t want to live with a dragon anymore and returns to the Forest Ranger’s house. You know, the lady who would have turned him over to CPS so he could go live in foster care without blinking an eye if he hadn’t claimed to have been living with a dragon.
In the final chapter, Pete and his new family (Forest Ranger, Boyfriend, and Natalie) drive to the mountains, where they visit the dragon, who (after Pete abandoned him) wandered off and randomly found his family of dragons.
So what’s wrong with this story?
For starters, it suffers from Too Many Characters. This is a kid’s book (movie.) Kids are interested in the antics of other kids; kids aren’t interested in adults trying to manage their adult relationships. With so many adult characters working through their own issues and character arcs, there is very little room in the story (it’s a short book) for Pete to have an arc of his own. In fact, Pete does not have a character arc. He does not debate whether or not he should join the humans, just spontaneously decides it for no particular reason at the end of the story.
Look, dragons are awesome. Living with a dragon is awesome. Most kids also think their own parents are pretty awesome. Random grownups you don’t know are not awesome. A life of wearing clothes, going to school, and doing homework is way less awesome than living in the woods with your dragon. Pete abandoning his dragon makes as much sense as a child spontaneously abandoning a beloved pet.
In short, the ending is completely unmotivated and makes no sense.
It still might be a fun movie (the special effects looked nice in the preview,) so long as the “gun-toting, ginger ale-swigging, bumbling logger” as bad guy doesn’t annoy you too much. But I was genuinely disappointed by the book.