Pete's Dragon review
Here’s an interesting fact about me; Pete’s Dragon was the first movie that I ever saw or even owned. I had to be only two or three, but the Disney clamshell VHS was there for years as I watched young Pete and his animated dragon Elliot go on their adventure. You can understand that I have a nostalgic soft spot for the musical from 1977, even though I gave the old movie another watch recently. I can say that Pete’s Dragon suffers from being overlong, too over-the-top, and it’s extremely corny (at least by Disney standards). It’ll always have a place in my heart, even if the film is flawed.
I doubt most children know about this old movie. So news of a remake intrigued me. Disney has been on a remake roll recently with moneymaking movies like Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book. Though some were fine, you have to question on whether their aware that their animated counterparts were already the better adaption of one’s source material. What makes a remake of Pete’s Dragon interesting is that it’s an original story. What we have with this new Pete’s Dragon is a completely different story with Pete and Elliot the only things from the original.
When he was little, Pete was going on a camping trip with his family in rural Washington State when a car crash changes this little boy’s life. With his parents killed, he meets the fabled dragon of the forest, and finds it very friendly. The dragon, that Pete names Elliot after a children’s book character, spends the next six years caring for the boy as they live in the woods. One day, Pete spots some lumberjacks and a park ranger nearby. He’s discovered by park ranger Grace (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), her boyfriend Jack (played by Wes Bentley), and his young daughter Natalie (played by Oona Laurence) where he’s separated from his dragon after an injury.
Pete uses his feral skills to try and escape back to the forest, but is caught by Grace. She then takes him back to her place to relax for a bit to try and figure out how he’s been able to survive for six years. His attempts to tell them about Elliot fail as everyone thinks that the dragon is imaginary. The only believers are Grace’s father, former park ranger Mr. Meacham (played by Robert Redford) and Jack’s brother Gavin (played by Karl Urban) who saw the dragon and wants to hunt him down.
For those that want to know how to do a proper remake, Pete’s Dragon is that perfect example. This is a wonderful family movie that seems to respect children by providing something gentler and slower. It’s all about friendship and the power it can build. In turn, this gives us a story that might be thin, but really embraces it’s atmosphere. The movie is gorgeously shot and allows its forest and lumber town to be taken in. This feels like a live action Hayo Miyazaki anime.
The casting is top notch with guys like Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford and Karl Urban bringing a lot of personality to their characters, along with newcomer Oakes Fegley as Pete who balances a feral-toughness along with a genuine curiosity. Elliot looks great as something of a cuddlier beast and still manages to get a lot of emotion in it’s limited vocabulary of grunts and whistles.
The film feels even with it’s story and pacing, even if the third act can feel a bit rushed. I think a little more could have been with the history of the myth of dragons in the mountains, but I doubt that most people would care.
I’ll give this four and a half Elliots out of five. Pete’s Dragon is the prime remake done right. This is what Ghostbusters should have done; finding it’s own style and story rather then relying on the original. I’d make the case that this is better and I now promise that my future child will have a copy of this when he’s three. Though I’ll still keep a copy of the original.