By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is of the children’s fantasy film made by the people who brought us all every children’s classic ever, yes Disney.
Pete’s Dragon stars newcomer Oakes Fegley with Hollywood regular Bryce Dallas Howard and movie legend Robert Redford.
For a remake, I knew very little of this film, but I was pleasantly surprised…
The live-action tale of Pete’s Dragon originally surfaced in 1977, now nearly 40 years on, Disney revisits the lesser-known story. Pete (Fegley) is only 5 when he’s involved in a terrible car accident with his parents. Left orphaned and abandoned in the woods, he makes friends with a big, furry dragon named Elliot who takes care of Pete for the next six years. That’s until tree-cutters threaten the woodland environment and their home.
We begin like every other Disney film of the past, a sour note that that climaxes with emotion and happiness – Pete’s Dragon is no different. Pete, who is left stranded in the primeval forest of the Pacific Northwest, has a very tough start to his life. I imagine it is quite difficult to watch the opening sequence as a youngster. The car crash scene is as stunningly captured as it is devastating. This could strike the children nearly as hard as Bambi’s mother’s death.
From here, we see Pete grow into a young and valiant soul that takes care of himself and the wilderness around him. We meet wider characters in Grace (Howard), Meacham (Redford), Natalie (Oona Laurence) and Gavin (Karl Urban) who all have their own agendas. Grace is a park ranger who investigates the forest in order to protect it; Gavin is a logger who wants to cut it all down, Meacham is Grace’s father who tells tales of the legendary Dragon and Natalie just wants a friend.
Unlike most Disney films, or even simply children movies of 2016, Pete’s Dragon has a much slower pace to it. Partly due to the film having such a simple plot but this also allows the characters to fully develop and embed themselves in the story. Howard is the anchor in the film, like a mother to all the characters, emotionally. Redford is the charming granddad who still believes in magic, young children of the world can relate. For me, Pete is the most enchanting character. He’s brave and wise beyond his years. Oakes’ acting is so professional and formidable that he is fully believed. The one area that this film could improve on is the villain. The film doesn’t decide whether Gavin is an out-and-out villain chasing the cash or just an over-the-top workman cutting down the forest.
David Lowery’s execution of Pete’s Dragon has the perfect mixture of emotion and visual effects for a Disney movie. Elliot is a big oaf of a dragon that has tendencies to be nasty but his feelings are also overwhelmingly present. The tender relationship between Elliot and Pete is a delight to watch. Lowery makes out the dragon is just like any other pet in the world which is a great feat; and it also makes me want a big fantasy creature for a pet!
Lowery also shoots the forest beautifully. There's a clear underlying message about the wilderness and its inhabitants. From scene to scene, we always see the beauty of the woodlands. We take away the message to love one another and to protect our home, in the film’s case the forest, but in our case the world.
This version is a welcomed remake, which is perhaps rare in the Disney industry. It feels a lot more passionate and delicate than a usual Disney film. With technology these days, Elliot also seems more engaging than a dodgy cartoon. It’s a sweet, family film that should be appreciated as a throwback movie to the Disney of old. It makes you believe in magic; even it is just for 90 minutes.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 Stars
Pete’s Dragon is showing at Phoenix Leicester this weekend (24th & 25th) with a few screenings around the UK – certificate PG