The two biggest releases of the weekend could not be more different. If you do care to see both, you’ll witness the strangest double feature ever.
Over the past two years, Disney has been ramping up its efforts to make everything old – new again. They’re doing this specifically with live-action remakes. The Jungle Book already grossed over $1 billion this year, while Alice Through the Looking Glass underperformed. Now, it’s time to take on the 1977 Disney classic, Pete’s Dragon.
In this version, Pete has been living in the woods from a very early age. The big reason he’s managed to thrive as a modern jungle/forest boy is that he’s had a giant dragon as his constant companion. They spend years together, until Pete is discovered by the park ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). As she tries to help him find his parents, a group of local lumberjacks, led by Gavin (Karl Urban), find evidence of the dragon and seek to hunt him down.
This is a remake that does not take every little piece of the original and make it relevant to today’s audiences. Instead, it takes only a few elements (Pete, Elliot and the need for family) and creates a new story altogether.
First off, let me share what’s missing. The original music is completely gone. There’s no Candle on the Water, Brazzle Dazzle Day or Bill of Sale. Dr. Terminus and the Gogans are nowhere to be seen and it’s a real shame. Yes, they had strange motives throughout the original movie, but the weirdness brought by them was unforgettable. Here, we still have a villain with a strange motive, but the menace and zaniness is removed. Also, Karl Urban is far too likable to be viewed as a terrible guy. Wes Bentley, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to play a character with selfish intentions. Instead, he blankly follows the action without adding much to the plot.
There is a fair amount of compassion throughout. Pete experiences everything with new eyes and great innocence. It almost follows the character of Jack in “Room,” except Pete flew on the back of a dragon instead of being locked in a tuff-shed his entire life. While not being completely memorable, Oakes Fegley (Pete), does a better than average job acting opposite Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford. Redford brings gravitas as Grace’s father, an optimistic man who once saw Elliot years back.
Considering this story is so wildly different from the original, I really think the ball was dropped when it wasn’t a straight continuation of Pete’s Dragon from 1977. Imagine a new kid (let’s call him Tyler) is found in the forest with reports that he has survived with the help of the town’s legend, an animated dragon. As this kid adjusts to his new reality and forms a bond with a nuclear family, the hopeful old man ventures into the forest. His first words upon seeing his old friend and guardian are, “Hey big guy. It’s me – Pete.”
I’m crying right now…
Overall, Pete’s Dragon is a nice movie that feels like a locally produced movie with a decent furry dragon budget. Unfortunately, it’s nearly void of humor and may be too drawn out and muted for the kids. C
In an alternate world, there is a Pixar movie called “Super-Market.” It tells the story of Hot Dog and his buddy, Hamburger as they travel through the diverse aisles of the grocery store where they live and meet unique store items from their world. It would appeal to adults through its consistent use of food puns. It would also delight children with its sense of adventure as Hot Dog and Hamburger travel through diverse grocery store landscapes. In an alternate world, Super Market would be praised and nominated for a Best Animated Academy Award.
Imagine that movie…now, add 314 F-words and non-stop references to vulgar acts, drug use and blatant racism and you have “Sausage Party.”
I can picture the pitch meeting for this one. Did I say pitch meeting? I meant, a baked Seth Rogen and his stoner buddies walking through the store, making apparently awesome jokes. As just a glimpse of the cleverness, they surely noticed that it would be funny to make the fruit act flamboyantly fruity. It’s possible that these guys didn’t even leave the house. They may have just marathoned Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 1 and 2.
Now, for the story. Frank (Seth Rogen) and his fellow hot dogs have all been living their short expiration days in hopes to be bought by what they consider to be gods taking them to the great beyond (shoppers taking them home). Yet, just as his potential salvation has come, he and his bun girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), fall out of the shopping cart and are left to traverse their way back to their respective aisle.
It’s like Inside Out, but there’s only one emotion (horny). Oh, and the villain is a literal douche.
There is nothing redeeming in Sausage Party and that’s the point. It revels in it. It unabashedly shocks you again and again. There is strength in its immaturity. It knows that not every joke will land, but there are so many jokes, that (unless you’ve walked out already) something will make you laugh. As immature as they may be, we’ve all laughed at fart jokes. Well, consider this the R-rated version of a fart joke.
It also takes the South Park route to stereotyping. It is over the top racist, but because it is so abrasive to everyone, it’s somehow not offensive to anyone (or at least that’s what the filmmakers want the perspective to be).
While watching Sausage Party, I was reminded of sleepovers I had my friends/cousins when I was around the age of 13. We’d tell dirty jokes that none of us had the capacity to understand and bust up laughing because we felt like we were breaking the “rules.”
Sausage Party will provide you some guilty laughs. It is not the end of morality as we know it. It’s just an excuse for Rogen and the gang to get away with something extreme and be critically lauded for doing so. D