Something happened to me during my showing of Pete’s Dragon. I wasn’t sure what it was at first but then it became clear: I was moved. Disney’s latest confirmed that I am still a human being, who is completely capable by being won over by an endearing film.
Pete’s Dragon isn’t groundbreaking material; it isn’t even all that original. It follows well-worn Disney tropes and takes us through a familiar trajectory for almost two hours- but none of that matters. Pete’s Dragon is a fun and thrilling adventure film, which has more heart and soul than most movies dare to have today. Especially with the dismal slog of a summer that we have been through at the movies, Pete’s Dragon rises above all the spectacles that try to win you over with their flashy trickery.
Director David Lowery (whose calling card film was the snoozy Terrence Malick-esque Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) helms the latest Disney remake. His source material is the 1977 Disney film – a rare one that I don’t have much of a connection with – where animation and live action were used together. In the 2016 version, Pete (Oakes Fegley) has been living in the forest for six years, without another human being in sight. His friend, Elliot, has taken care of him all this time – Elliot happens to be a dragon.
Much like The Jungle Book, which we saw remade earlier this year, Pete is a boy who has only known his life in the forest and has no desire to leave it. One day when Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a devoted forest ranger, her boyfriend, Jack (We Bently), and his daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence) are in the forest, they see Pete. He is brought back to their home while they try to figure out where he came from and how long he has been living out there.
Watching Pete adapt to the real world is such an interesting aspect of Pete’s Dragon and Fegley does a wonderful job conveying Pete’s confusion about simple things, words or actions. He tells Grace and Natalie about his friend Elliot and is asked if that is his imaginary friend. “What does imaginary mean?” he asks Natalie.
It’s hard for people to believe Pete’s stories of Elliot because dragons are just mystical creatures. Only one person in town, Grace’s father (Robert Redford), has ever claimed to have seen or heard the dragon. In a town filled with skeptics, Elliot needs to be seen to be believed.
Pete’s Dragon is a good example of a film that takes familiar material and works wonders with it. Movies are usually knocked because nothing seems new or fresh anymore but that doesn’t always make a movie bad. Lowery is able to effectively blend the drama, action, thrills and comedy into one even movie and creates a fresh film experience.
Your kids may want you to take them to see that fun looking hot dog movie – but don’t! – over this. There are moments of peril and genuine danger but this is one of the best family films in some time. Let your imagination take flight because Pete’s Dragon is worth a trip to the movies.
9 out of 10