Adventure Family

'Pete's Dragon' Film Review: A soulful story for all ages

August 12, 2016Ben MK

Within the last year, Disney has given us movies about a caveboy and a good dinosaur, a young girl and a Big Friendly Giant, and an orphan and a laid-back, talking bear named Baloo. Now comes another story about the special bond between a child and a fantastical creature; this time, it's a remake of Disney's 1977 live-action/animated classic, Pete's Dragon.

Directed by David Lowery, the new Pete's Dragon follows Pete (Oakes Fegley), a scrappy 10-year-old who's discovered living in the Millhaven forest, a sprawling green space situated in America's Pacific Northwest. Orphaned by a tragic car accident that claimed the lives of both of his parents some six years earlier, Pete is a mystery to Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard), the kindly park ranger who stumbles upon him. After all, how can a young boy survive on his own for all this time, and in such wild and potentially unforgiving conditions?

The answer, as it turns out, is thanks to a furry, green dragon named Elliot, who also happens to be Pete's best friend and loyal protector, and whom up until now has been nothing but a rumor stirred up by Grace's father (Robert Redford), the only other person to have come face-to-face with Elliot in the past several decades. All that is about to change, however, for Grace's future brother-in-law, an ambitious but misguided logger named Gavin (Karl Urban), has set his mind on capturing Elliot, and he plans to bring him back to civilization for all the townspeople to see.

What follows is not only a story of family, love and friendship; it's also an allegory for growing up and letting go. Of course, Pete's Dragon is also a Disney movie; and no better is this fact represented than in the visuals, especially the convincing CG artistry behind Elliot himself. Designed to subtly reference the character design of his 1977 counterpart, this 2016 version of Elliot is expressive and prone to puppy dog tendencies — which means there's slim chance of him frightening younger moviegoers, even when he starts breathing fire in the film's final act.

Otherwise, if you're expecting something on the same level as Dreamworks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon franchise, think again. Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks have crafted a deceptively straightforward and heartfelt tale. But make no mistake: what Pete's Dragon lacks in edginess and narrative complexity it more than makes up for with the sincerity of its storytelling, at the core of which is the unbreakable bond between Pete and Elliot, two inseparable kindred spirits who would do anything for one another.

Grounded in the terrific performances of its cast — which also includes Wes Bentley and Oona Laurence — Pete's Dragon is the kind of film that doesn't come around very often. A remake that's markedly superior to the original, it eschews typical blockbuster conventions, with a net effect that's as spectacular as it is simple, balancing stunning special effects with a soulful story for all ages.

Pete's Dragon releases August 12th, 2016 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for action, peril and brief language. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 42 Mins.

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