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REVIEW: “Pete’s Dragon” is just okay, and why honest, informed film criticism is a good thing

in Disney, Movies, Movies & TV, Reviews

It’s not a film critic’s job to tell you whether or not you will like a movie.  It is a film critic’s job to tell you whether or not they liked a movie. There’s a big difference between the two, and the distinction is an important one.

Over the weekend my esteemed colleague Adam McCabe wrote an opinion piece lambasting “old guard” film critics for panning Warner Bros.’ new DC Comics-based release “Suicide Squad,” stating that “many professional critics are simply too used to a time of cinema long-gone and can’t familiarize with the ‘ADD generation’ of filmmaking.” Adam goes on to say that “it’s very evident that this small group of old-timers are not the voice of the majority and therefore only serve to contradict and oppose.”

While I always respect Adam’s opinions and enjoy his writing, I have to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with his premise on this piece. I personally know a handful of professional critics (and I occasionally am one) and based on my experience I can assure you that none of them are setting out to be contrarian. In fact, by and large, most critics want to like (and would love to love) the movies they see. It’s why they got into the business.

The problem is that the overwhelming majority of movies are mediocre. And that’s nothing new. It’s been the case since filmmaking started over a hundred years ago. We remember certain eras of cinema more fondly because only the cream of the crop survives from each period. For example, we still watch and admire “Jaws” from 1975– with very good reason– but when was the last time you heard anyone talking about “The Hindenburg,” a high-profile flop from the same year?

Good movies are still being made, but as always, the great ones are few and far between. And the terrific thing about film critics is that they’re there to let us know when the great ones come along. When a movie scores a 90% or higher on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re in for a real treat. Film criticism is a wonderful resource for people who love movies and want to know which ones deserve their attention.

I haven’t seen “Suicide Squad” yet. I probably won’t pay to see it in the theater, and yeah, that’s mostly because of the bad reviews. I like DC Comics and I’ve always been into the Batman universe, but I haven’t been too fond of the direction the recent entries in that franchise have been taking. I’ll probably wait to watch “Suicide Squad” when it comes out on home video. I used that strategy for “Batman v. Superman” and I’m extremely thankful I did.

The bottom line of my indulgently off-topic rebuttal is that I’m glad I have a reliable collective of trusted film critics to help me decide how to spend my money and time. I don’t want film critics trying to guess whether or not I or even “the majority” will like a movie. When I read a movie review I’m looking for an honest reaction from that one person, and I want that reaction to be an informed one.

No one is preventing anyone else from going to or liking any movie. All voices should have the opportunity to be heard, including yours– that’s what makes the Internet so wonderful. And the only things that qualify professional film critics over average moviegoers are knowledge, experience, and hopefully writing ability. If those things don’t increase your stock in someone’s opinions, you should absolutely feel free to ignore them. Though I had my issues with the jumping-off point of Adam’s article, I definitely agree with his conclusion: audiences should feel free to formulate their own opinions and “go to the movies and have a blast,” if that’s what they’re looking for. Critics do not exist to prevent that, nor do they want to.

Image Copyright 2016 Disney
Image Copyright 2016 Disney

Case in point: a few weeks ago I saw “Pete’s Dragon,” Disney’s new re-imagining of its own 1977 live-action-meets-animation musical (to call it a remake would be unfair, as the only things it has in common with the original are its title and the names of the main characters.) When I walked out of the theater, the only words I could think of to describe the movie were “entirely unremarkable.” It’s not bad, and I wouldn’t call it very good. It just is. Unfortunately it’s my job to write more than those few words about it, so in a way I’m glad this debate came up.

Since I started contributing to Inside the Magic, I’ve been accused on different occasions of both taking money from Disney to give their movies positive reviews and of unfairly disliking everything that Disney puts out. Both can’t be true, and neither is. The reality is that I always look forward to discovering another movie that I think is fantastic, regardless of what studio releases it. Like most film critics, I want movies to be good and I’m disappointed when they’re not.

I thought “Pete’s Dragon” was just okay. But you should see it this Friday, August 12th and decide for yourself. And, if you’re into it, have a blast.

Image Copyright 2016 Disney
Image Copyright 2016 Disney

6 Comments

  1. Sven Leichsenring

    I respect your critics the most here on ITM, because I believe that you tell me your feelings about a movie. You should take it as a compliment that people accuse you of on one hand rating Disney movies better than they are and on the other hand be an absolute Disney hater. That just means to me that you are in the healthy middle and don’t just follow the hive-mind.

    Keep it up Mike. I’ll be waiting for your next article.

    1. Kitty

      I love Mikes articles and reviews too. Its the last part of ITM that feels like “Inside the Magic”.

      Hopefully Ricky makes his way back here and brings the site back to its roots. But for now then I’m glad Mike is around because Its good to hear a voice that says “This is how I feel” rather than “This is what they want to hear”.

  2. Greg

    Thanks Mike for the very good and honest take. I have to disagree with your last statement though. We (as the public) should NOT go and see it in [in theatre’s], if the trailer did absolutely nothing on encourage someone to do so, and that is exactly where I find myself. I MIGHT have spent the time and a couple of bucks to catch it OUT of theatres, but that is unlikely now after you seemed to confirm what the trailer indicated – a meh film at best.
    There is too much competition these days for our time, attention, and money, and meh movies will not win in any of those competitions. I will never understand how there are 4-5 movies that come out nearly every week, 90% of which are meh are worse. Someone in the industry along the way should recognize when a movie doesn’t have “it,” and save the studio that money. Unfortunately, every once in a while, a bad movie actually makes lots of money. That is very unfortunate for many reasons.

  3. Kitty

    I think this is the appropriate time to say a huge “Thank You” to Mike for being on ITM. One of the reasons ITM got such a loyal fanbase was because Ricky Brigante ha such an honest voice about Disney. He was a fan, but he wasn’t a fanboy. And so his movie reviews would give praise when earned but point out when Disney stumbles. That is the kind of honesty that the new ITM lacks now that it is in new hands.

    And that is why Mike’s reviews are so important to ITM. I unsubscribed from the Facebook feed but I still check in to see what Mike says because he gives his opinion and thats exactly what a blogger should do. So, as long as Mike is staying honest then I’m sure theres a lot of fans who will continue to tune in.

    Now as for Pete’s Dragon. I love that your review was reduced to just a sentence. Sure, its disappointing because i really wanted more details but I guess its also accurate because many movies nowadays are nothing but “just a movie”. And while thats sad, its the truth and there really isn’t much else to say.

  4. Thank you so much about talking about honest reviews. I also do movie reviews and was very disappointed in Pete’s Dragon. It was my favorite movie as a kid and Disney did not honor the characters one bit. This post encouraged me to write a very honest review. Thank you again!

  5. LeoR

    Pete’s Dragon holds 86% on RT… pretty high for an “entirely unremarkable” movie isn’t it? According to the article’s logic, I should run to the theater for a guaranteed real treat… I think that movie critic in our time is very cheap. Anybody can give an uninformed film criticism, bashing or praising anything with no limits. Remember that not only professional critics has acces to public forums on the Internet! RT is only an aggregator, so if you put junk in it, you’ll get junk out of it

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