Starring: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban
Directed By: David Lowery
The first thing you should know going in to Pete’s Dragon is that it isn’t so much a remake as it is a reimagining. This version has very little in common with the original, other than the dragon. Because of that, it may or may not disappoint you, but it does allow the film to stand on its own and not be judged parallel to the Disney classic.
In this version, Pete (Fegley) is stranded in the woods after he is in a car crash with his parents, who are killed. He is taken in by Elliot, the dragon, who keeps him alive and protects him. We jump six years, and Pete is thriving. His communication skills are excellent for a boy that stopped reading and talking to humans at age four (yes, that’s a dig at the writers). We also meet Grace (Howard), who is like a forest ranger? She has a father (Redford) who tells stories about the time he saw a dragon in the woods. She’s got a fiance (Bentley) who runs a logging company, and has a hothead brother (Urban). Grace is also going to be a surrogate mother for her fiance’s daughter, Natalie (Laurence). One day, while in the woods, Pete runs into Grace, and is amazed at the sight of other humans. His curiosity gets the best of him, which leads to his captor. Elliot is worried about where Pete might be, and starts to come out of hiding in order to save Pete.
Elliot is really well done. Not necessarily realistically animated, but his mannerisms add strength to his character, and you actually feel real emotion. He becomes a very sympathetic being, even though he’s obviously CGI. I was genuinely moved by his connection with Pete, and a lot of that has to do with Fegley, who is an exceptional child actor. Even though I was bothered by the fact that he shouldn’t have developed his speech patterns past that of a four year old, Fegley does a great job really creating the realism around Elliot, and his bond feels real. It’s one of those rare moments where I’d say the adult actors all take a backseat to the child actors, and Fegley carries this film.
Howard is fine. Redford is fine. Karl Urban is a bit too cartoonish for my taste, as the somewhat villain. I’ll admit, I was disappointed that the film offered him saying several times “it’s my dragon”, yet no one came back with the line “No, it’s PETE’S DRAGON.” As cheesy as that sounds, I felt that if he was going to say it was his dragon over and over, it better lead to someone dropping that truth bomb on him, but it never came. So, I was disappointed.
Disney is going to continue to remake their classics because we keep watching them. This one, while I’m not sure it needed a remake, actually impressed me because of how different it is from the original. However, it wasn’t a perfect film, and we’ve seen more realistic looking dragons (Smaug comes to mind). I think he still could have been green and cuddly and still looked less like a cartoon.
A solid film to enjoy with the family this summer. I was genuinely moved in spots, and that’s hard to do when one of your main characters can’t speak, and isn’t real.
FINAL GRADE: B+