ALLISON AUBREY, HOST:
It's the dog days of August, a time when the excitement of summer vacation gives way to boredom, baking in the heat and waiting for the next school year to start. So we thought it would be a good time to talk movies, specifically kids' movies.
Joining us is Kristen Page-Kirby. She's senior features writer for The Washington Post Express paper. Hi there, Kristen.
KRISTEN PAGE-KIRBY: Hi.
AUBREY: So, Kristen, going into the summer of 2016, we were hearing a dire forecast. The word was it was not going to be a very good year for summer films. Well, some of them turned out to be OK, actually pretty good, but maybe not the ones that we adults would have expected. So tell us more about that.
PAGE-KIRBY: Well, yeah, I mean, it - coming into it, you had the tent-pole films, the superhero films to look forward to. And so you had "Captain America: Civil War" and you had "X-Men: Apocalypse" and you had "Suicide Squad." And they were supposed to carry the summer, and they turned out to be almost uniformly terrible. But the bright spots really tended to be the kids' movies. It really got kicked off with "Zootopia," which came out in March.
PAGE-KIRBY: And then "Finding Dory" and then "Pete's Dragon," which came out just this week, just turned out to be in this terrible, terrible time - the end of August is usually just awful for movies - just this really beautiful piece of film.
AUBREY: What made, for instance, "Dory" stand out as being pretty good?
PAGE-KIRBY: Well, I think it's better than pretty good. I think that what was great about "Finding Dory" is that it routed its problems in real life, even though we're dealing with talking fish. The basic conflict was what if I lose my family?
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FINDING DORY")
LUCIA GEDDES: (As Dory) Hi. I've lost my family.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Where did you see them last?
GEDDES: (As Dory) I forgot.
PAGE-KIRBY: And the answer that the kids got was, first of all, you can form a new family, second of all, your family's going to keep looking for you. And I think that also really resonates with adults because losing people is something that we go through probably more often than we'd like, and so the basis of that film was a very human concern.
AUBREY: Everything's going to be OK.
PAGE-KIRBY: Everything's going to be OK at the end, but it also really recognized that things can be terrible. And things can be terrible when you're a kid. Things...
AUBREY: And I guess that's always a theme in kids' movies. Something horrible happens right in the beginning, and there's a sense, I guess, that, you know, through movies, kids can experience these traumatic things. And it's sort of a proxy or a good training for when something really does happen to you in real life.
PAGE-KIRBY: Right. And I think that's part of it, but I think what's been interesting kind of beginning with "Toy Story" is that kids' movies have started anchoring their problems in the real world. So with "Snow White," for example, you might have a stepmother who doesn't like you or who you don't like. The chances of her being an actual witch that is out to kill you...
AUBREY: Not so real.
PAGE-KIRBY: ...Hopefully pretty small. And so why those movies can function as proxies - and I mean, I think a lot of times we forget that kids are actually human beings and experience a lot of the same emotions that adults - they just don't process it the same way. And so to have these movies that are based more on the human experience, rather than a fairy tale, I think makes for a much more rewarding film.
AUBREY: One of the films I want to talk about is "Pete's Dragon." It opened this week. I saw it in a theater in Silver Spring, Md. The crowd loved it. Kids were laughing. Kids were crying, but not just the kids, also adults. Give us a little thumbnail of what happens in this movie.
PAGE-KIRBY: So it's a boy named Pete. His parents are killed in a car accident in the very beginning of the film, and he is found and protected by a dragon named Elliot. He eventually is discovered by some other people, and he kind of has to make a choice about, you know - Elliot doesn't fit into this new world. There are people that don't believe Elliot exists. There are people that want to capture him, and then, of course, it's, you know - everybody ends up happy at the end.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PETE'S DRAGON")
OONA LAURENCE: (As Natalie) Is Elliot your imaginary friend?
OAKES FEGLEY: (As Pete) What's imaginary?
OONA: (As Natalie) Well, it's where you make someone up in your head, so that you have someone to talk to. It keeps you from being lonely.
OAKES: (As Pete) Are you my imaginary friend, too?
OONA: (As Natalie) I'm real.
OAKES: (As Pete) So is Elliot.
AUBREY: It seems to me that this was really a movie about belief in optimism. I loved this line that you wrote in your review this week. You wrote that (reading) our real-life Elliots - Elliot being the dragon we just heard about - aren't dragons. They may be friends or family or maybe our real-life Elliotts is just a sense of optimism, and a world fueled by negativity.
Is that why this movie is resonating with kids and with us, their parents?
PAGE-KIRBY: You know, I think that's part of it. I think part of the beauty of this movie is that it really captures what it's like to be a kid. Think of all the things that you knew when you were a kid that turned out not to be true but helped you cope in a world that didn't make a lot of sense. We like to pretend that we leave those things behind, but our world still doesn't make a lot of sense.
AUBREY: So we need these stories in our lives is what I hear you saying.
PAGE-KIRBY: Oh, yeah. I think I can't imagine living in a world where we can't even just two hours believe in dragons.
AUBREY: Well, listen, thank you so much for joining us. Kristen Page-Kirby is senior features writer for The Washington Post Express.
PAGE-KIRBY: Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF THOMAS NEWMAN SONG, "FIRST DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.