“Pete’s Dragon” flies in to set Disney’s live-action remake praise streak in stone.
Based on the original 1977 classic of the same name, ‘Pete’s Dragon’ follows Pete (Oakes Fegley), an 11 year-old boy who has been living in the woods after a car accident six years prior. He is not alone in the woods as he comes across a dragon named Elliot who acts as his guardian and best friend.Unbeknownst to them, Elliot is a local legend in tales as told by local wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford).
One day, Pete is spotted by park ranger Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the woods with Pete being taken to the hospital. Elliot himself gets spotted by local lumberjack Gavin (Keith Urban) who is hellbent on finding the dragon and bringing him to the town to boast of his catch. It is up to Pete to protect Elliot in return and show the town he is not a danger.
The reason that makes this remake stand out on is unexpected, but welcomed change. It takes the base concept of the original film, a boy with an unlikely friend, and creates a film incomparable to the original cheese-filled musical. It instead becomes akin to films of the 80’s done in the vein of Spielberg and captures the timeless nature of those films.
It lends itself to the tropes we’ve come to love and expect out of those types of films to get the audience interested, even if it is quite predictable at points. The cinematography of the film makes the film’s setting larger than life and add a weight to it. In a way, this is ‘Super 8’ if Disney decided to make their own version. It is dark at times with hints of brown and green in order to capture the feel of a small mountain town.
The use of CGI for the animation of Elliot is quite a stand out as well. Instead of the marvelously hand-drawn animation of Don Bluth, we instead get a giant dragon that will remind some in the audience of Falcor from ‘The Neverending Story.’ His character shares the same traits as before such as being innocent, breathing fire and turning invisible. One key difference however is his fur that is a tinted green with brown notes that help him blend more into the woods than the hand-drawn version. It truly a great sight to witness on screen.
The performances themselves are great, if some characters come off as more ridiculous than others. Fegley as Pete excels in the wonderment and bravery of his character by playing it straight and somber. Howard and Redford are comfortable as their adult selves with Howard playing Grace as a motherly type figure and Redford being the old grizzled explorer that enjoys telling his stories to the next generation. One standout is Oona Laurence as Natalie, Pete’s new human friend, as she captures the innocent curiosity of childhood fascination with the discovery of Elliot.
The flaws of the film are few and far between. The aforementioned predictability deters from some of the films more perilous moments in the third act, which in turn features the highlight of the film’s set-pieces. The pacing can be slow at times, yet the world is so intriguing that it keeps the audience wide awake for the duller moments.
Karl Urban as the villain Gavin is very hit-and-miss. He feels less realistic than what the film presents itself as and his one moment of sympathy is not enough for the audience to care about him. Urban’s performance is not as hysterical as the original’s Dr. Terminus, played by Jim Dale, yet it borders on being a villain just for the sake that the film needs one.
‘Pete’s Dragon’ rises above the original’s concept by creating a story to stand on its own, even if the audience can see certain elements coming from a mile ahead. It is a throwback film that combines the elements of classic family film-making and new elements of modern cinema to deliver a new Disney classic.
Final Verdict: 4 out of 5