Directed by David Lowery. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley.
THE PLOT: After his parents tragically die in a car crash, young Pete (Oakes Fegley) grows up in the woods with his only friend: a big, furry green dragon he names Elliott. Having discovered each other in the woods and become best friends, they live an adventurous but low-key life. Elliott keeps under the radar, as he has the ability to become invisible to humans when he wants to. Old-timer Meacham (Robert Redford) once saw Elliott, but nobody in the logging town of Millhaven really believes that he saw a dragon. His ranger daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) almost comes across Pete in the woods one day, but it is her daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) who finds Pete and befriends him. Pete’s secret cannot stay hidden for much longer though, as logger Gavin (Karl Urban) comes across Elliott and decides to catch himself a dragon…
THE VERDICT: ‘Pete’s Dragon’ is one of Disney’s lesser-known films, at least on this side of the pond anyway. The 1977 film now looks quite dated and clunky, so when Disney started digging deep into their back catalogue and remaking them for a 21st Century audience, it was not the most obvious choice. That is, until you have seen this new take, which is still true to the original while keeping it fresh.
‘Pete’s Dragon’ is a curious change of direction for David Lowery, whose previous film was the Terrence Malick-like drama ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’. He describes his new take on the story as a re-imagining rather than a remake, in order to distance his film from the original. It is indeed a re-imagining, which jettisons the songs and slapstick humour for something more modern, measured and relevant. The core of the story is essentially the same: it is a boy and his dog friendship story, except the dog is much bigger, has wings and can breathe fire.
The superb re-design of Elliott as a furry dark green dragon gives him a cuddly aspect, but he can be threatening when attacked. He is a gentle soul though, much like Pete. That makes the audience care, to the point where the two characters seem one and the same. This is beautifully illustrated in a scene of Elliott gazing into an upstairs window, as Grace tells Pete and Natalie a bedtime story. Does Pete really belong with a dragon, or does he belong with his own kind? Or maybe he could have both? The film makes a subtle point about the importance of belonging and being part of a family.
The lack of a central villain / antagonist is a weak point in the story. Gavin is ostensibly set up as the villain, but he is more of an opportunist. Despite good work from the reliable Urban, the character is never really fleshed out – much like Wes Bentley’s father figure, who is also underdeveloped. The two children are excellent though and Redford adds a touch of old-school Hollywood class, raising the acting bar. Shot in stunning, scenic New Zealand locations, the environment is also a character in itself.
While it does have some minor flaws, Pete’s Dragon is undoubtedly a better film than the original. It is a simple story of an unlikely friendship, but one that works well in this shiny new makeover. Disney are certainly on to something with their live action remakes. Maybe they will get around to finally remaking ‘The Black Hole’. As much as this reviewer loves ‘The Black Hole’, the possibilities are now infinite with modern visual effects. Until then, ‘Pete’s Dragon’ should entertain adults and children alike with its tale of boyhood wonder.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Gareth O’Connor

  • emerb

    “Pete’s Dragon” was originally released in 1977 and never achieved the kind of popularity of Disney classics such as of “Beauty And The Beast” and “Cinderella”. Writer-director David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) puts a new spin on this fantastical adventure which features a young boy who roams a forest with his dragon friend Elliott before being forced back into society against his will. This is sure to be a family winner. It’s an intimate, sincere and warm-hearted movie which is a lovely and welcome relief from the summer of louder, brasher and bolder movies. Lowery turns out to have been an ideal choice to direct here. He allows us to capture childlike wonder through Pete’s eyes. Maybe I’m just a big kid but I think any film that can reignite a childlike
    sense of awe and magic is worth experiencing.

    We are introduced to a young Pete leafing through a book in the back of the family car. Suddenly a deer bolts out of nowhere and forces the car off the road and he is forced to bear witness to his parents’ death. Chased by wolves deep into the forest, Pete comes face to face with a giant green monster-like creature (brought to life with impressive CGI). Fast forward 6 years and Pete (Oakes Fegley) and the dragon he names Elliott have become inseparable friends. Pete has been taken under the wing and cared for by Elliot. They have since built
    a sturdy home around the trunk of a huge tree spending their days side by side exploring the woods. The first human the little boy observes is a kindly forest ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is tracking endangered species in order to protect their habitat from a lumber company operated by her boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley) and the relentless ambition of his brother Gavin (Karl Urban). She’s grown up in the woods and knows them inside and out but she has long resisted the urban legend, largely spun by her father (Robert Redford), that a dragon inhabits the forest. He insists he saw the dragon years earlier, a tale he relays to the local children. In a rather charming moment fuelled by curiosity, Pete and Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) meet and the little boy is brought into the nearby town, somewhat of an attraction. When the town learns of the existence of the dragon, Pete and Elliott find their peaceful life together has been destroyed and are pulled away from each other. As man fights dragon, everybody learns that the woods hold many secrets….

    This is pure family-friendly material and I thought it was a really delightful surprise. Oakes Fegley does a great job. He doesn’t have an easy task, often acting opposite Elliot alone, who in addition to being non-existent in a practical sense, is also primarily non-verbal. As a whole, the ensemble cast gels very well together, particularly the 2 playful children, Fegley and Laurence. The most impressive performance surely has to come from the dragon for which the visual effects team deserve great credit. A wonderfully imaginative creature, from his
    emerald-green fur to the way he flies and how he camouflages into his surroundings – very impressive indeed. Together with the uplifting soundtrack and the lush real-life locations (shot across New Zealand), this is a quality,
    wholesome film. Perhaps it could be considered slightly old-fashioned and
    sentimental but only in all the right ways. It’s easy to be cynical about Disney’s relentless franchise machine. We can argue that their numerous remakes and sequels ignore the soul and heart of the originals and are just out for mass appeal and to rake in the cash. However, Disney’s movies are beloved the world over and box office receipts suggest that audiences don’t want them to stop coming. I suspect the same will apply for this movie and it should do very well. While “Pete’s Dragon” doesn’t break any new records nor accomplish anything spectacular, it does bring magic into a story that has been forgotten for years. For me, this movie joins a long list of beloved family movies, ranging from E.T. to the more recent visual effects marvel, “The BFG” – a sheer magical delight.