TL;DR – A beautiful film with real heart, it is well filmed, well-acted, and the dragon is a delight
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Well, the Disney remake season continues unabated, and after The Jungle Book earlier in the year (which was a good but not great film – Full Review), they have now reached back into the great magical Disney Vault to remake one of their lesser known films Pete’s Dragon. I do have some vague memories of the original film, that it was this weird look into poor America, but it has been years so I can’t tell you if this is a good remake/reinterpretation/whatever, but what I can tell you is that this is an amazing film in its own right.
Pete’s Dragon tells the story of Pete (Oakes Fegley) who as a little boy finds himself lost in the North American great pine forests, hunted by wolves he does not stand a chance and then from the deep dark comes a roar and his rescuer The Dragon who Pete calls Elliot. Flash forward 6 years and Pete has grown up with Elliot but now loggers are encroaching into the deep forest bringing them in conflict with those things that live in the deep dark.
Now from this story, you are probably getting flashbacks to The Jungle Book, and I agree there are clear similarities. They both focus on a single child not raised by humans, they both deal with issues of how you relate to a society you don’t know, they both have CGI characters, but the difference is that I feel that Pete’s Dragon is the far better film. Where Pete’s Dragon works better than the Jungle Book is engaging with the emotional spectrum. This is a film with moments of pure joy and deep sadness, and for a movie to be able to go from one extreme to another without giving you emotional whiplash is a testament not only to the writer and director but the power of the actors. Oakes Fegley (Pete) and Oona Laurence (Natalie) do a remarkable job of selling their emotional journey for actors so young, let alone interacting with a CGI character which can stump even seasoned actors. We see this also clearly in the other relationships in the film between Pete and Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), between the brothers Gavin (Karl Urban) and Jack (Wes Bentley), between Grace and her father (Robert Redford), it is the power of these relationships which help sell the authenticity of a dog dragon in the American forests.
I also have to say I really liked the design and CGI implementation of Elliot, he’s not a dragon in the European or Asian traditional sense. Indeed he’s more a giant dog with wings, and I know there will be some dragon aficionados out there that would say that he’s not a dragon but I don’t care, Elliot is amazing. Elliot has a really unique style and I like how they matched his personality to his design, or his design to his personality, whichever way they did it. This along with some really top notch animations really made Elliot seem to be a unique character, which is something really difficult to do for animated characters that don’t talk, I would say it is just as good as Toothless in the How To Train Your Dragon series. As well as this the filmmakers make excellent use of the local setting with some beautiful location shots that give the film a real mark of quality.
What can make a good film great is for me when they can take a relatively simple premise, but also use it to introduce some interesting themes, and we see that here with Pete’s Dragon. In this film, we get themes of environmentalism and spirituality, what it means to believe without seeing, and what does it mean if we strip the land for quick money now at the expense of the future? These are both really important themes, but it rare to see them working together in modern films, even rarer to see them done as well as they have here.
Now the film is not perfect, indeed for me, music is one of the most important parts of the filmmaking process, and while it is mostly fine, there were a couple of places where it didn’t quite work. Also, this is a film targeted at a younger audience, so there are a number of times where you will probably know what is about to happen before the big reveal.
In the end, Pete’s Dragon is a beautiful film with real heart, it is well filmed, well-acted, and the dragon is a delight, I highly recommend.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – David Lowery
Screenplay by – David Lowery & Toby Halbrooks
Based on – A Screenplay by Malcolm Marmorstein & Short Story by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field
Starring – Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Isiah Whitlock Jr. & Robert Redford
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: G; NZ: PG; UK: PG; USA: PG