Pete’s Dragon Review

“Pete’s Dragon” is the new remake of the Walt Disney Classic, updating the story of Pete and his green-invisible dragon.  Directed wonderfully by David Lowery, the film stars Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Wes Bentley, Carl Urban, Oona Laurence, and Oakes Fegley as Pete.  The film tells the story of Pete, a feral child who lives out in the forest, who is soon discovered by a park ranger named Grace.  Grace takes Pete in, while the little misfit boy has a series of adventures with his pet Dragon named Elliot.  This heartwarming tale is about, family, love and loss and will enrapture your hearts to this updated Disney take on the 70’s classic.

“Pete’s Dragon” was one of those childhood films that has never left my heart.  It’s strange, hillbilly songs and quirky Maine coastal town setting add to that 1970’s flavor.  And Helen Reddy’s classic song “Candle on the Water” was one of the standout Disney songs.  However, after recently watching the film it was clear that the movie has not aged well.  So going into this new live action version of “Pete’s Dragon” I was a little hesitant but I wanted to give it a solid chance.  After all, Disney has been killing it with their updated animated films.  “Cinderella” was fantastic and “Jungle Book” so far is still my favorite movie of 2016.  I thought it was odd remaking “Pete’s Dragon” because it isn’t as beloved a film like “Jungle Book,” “Lion King” or even “Cinderella.”  But I am glad that this film was remade because this is the perfect example of a movie that benefits a remake treatment.

“Pete’s Dragon” was all kinds of wonderful.  It was touching, moving and at times incredibly sad.  I teared up many different times during this film which I didn’t expect.  The story is so simple and without complexities and I think because of this, it adds to the magic of the film.  So many films need to have big, gigantic and convoluted plots with twists and dramatic overtones, but “Pete’s Dragon” settles for simple and to its benefit it works wonderfully.  Because of its simplicity, adults and kids will be able to get sucked in to this wonderful story.  Bryce Dallas Howard is really making a name for herself, as she’s always a pleasure to see on-screen.  Wes Bentley was average playing her Boyfriend Jack, and Robert Redford was brilliant as always playing Grace’s father Meacham.  Carl Urban was sort of a villain, and kind of a throwaway character, but the real stars here are the kids; Oakes Fegley was really good here playing Pete.  And Oona Laurence was also wonderful playing Natalie.  The kids were definite standouts for sure, but the elephant in the room has to be Elliot.  Elliot the green invisible dragon was truly the heart and soul of the film.  He’s made to look sort of like a real dragon, but with fur and a lot of dog-like qualities.  He rolls over, he fetches and he truly does act like a ginormous dog.  But what makes Elliot special is that his facial features are very reminiscent of the animated Elliot from the original movie.  He has one big snaggletooth that sticks out of his lower jaw making him feel kind of cute and cuddly.  The relationship between Elliot and Pete is the most heartbreaking, as the two are just inseparable.  Much like Elliot and E.T.’s relationship in the Spielberg classic, this movie too has a lot of those elements.  The two characters are bonded for life.

“Pete’s Dragon” is beautifully shot and the animation of the dragon is really well done.  Probably not on the same level as “The Jungle Book” but it looks real enough for this type of story.  One of the best things about “Pete’s Dragon” is the music.  There are many alternative folk songs in the film that nail the mood and the tone of the story.  The Lumineer’s song “Nobody Knows” is the standout song here much like “Candle on the Water” from the original film.  The movie had a very folk-tale type vibe and even though the setting isn’t revealed in the movie, it looks like it takes place somewhere in Oregon.  I liked the fact that the movie took place in the 1970’s which is a nice little nod to the original film.  And the direction by Lowery is fine filmmaking.  “Pete’s Dragon” had a quality to it that felt very much in line with the direction that they are taking their old properties, and so far I like what they’re doing a lot.  The film is charming enough for children, but smart enough for adults.  This is the perfect example of a good family film for parents and kids of all ages.

The only real complaint that I had about the film was some of the pacing.  There were times when the movie felt like it came to a complete halt.  And other times when the story starts to soar.  Although in saying that, I was never bored or tired of what I was seeing on-screen.  In fact, for myself I was so drawn into this world I never wanted to leave.  But I think for a lot of audiences who are used to really fast paced action adventure stories, they may not have the patience.  This is a slow building film and because of that it can harm someone’s attention span.  But for myself, I thought nothing of it and I adored every moment that this film had to offer.

“Pete’s Dragon” may not be as “classic” as the original film but I do think it is a far superior movie because of the special effects and its updated story.  Sure there’s no drunken Hillbilly’s or “Candle on the Water” but this version of the film feels more real and more modern than its counterpart.  The heartwarming relationship between Pete and Elliot is sure to make your heart soar and shed a few tears along the way.  This is hands down one of the better films that I have seen this year and I truly adored it.  It’s not on the same scale as “The Jungle Book” but it doesn’t need to be.  “Pete’s Dragon” is an excellent summer family film that I think audiences will greatly enjoy.  Disney really knows how to pack in those feels, and I truly felt something special for “Pete’s Dragon.”

Grade:  A

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