A VISUALLY IMPRESSIVE, THOUGHTFUL, AND THRILLING ADVENTURE FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: B (3 stars)
Pete and his dragon friend, Elliott in Pete’s Dragon
Disney is on a roll with its live-action remakes of their classic films, last year we had the critically and commercially successful, Cinderella, this year we had the equally successful, The Jungle Book, and now we have a live-action/CG animated remake of Disney’s 1977 film, Pete’s Dragon. Prior to the groundbreaking effects of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the original Pete’s Dragon was one of Disney’s early films that combined live-action with animation, alongside other movies like Song of the South, Mary Poppins, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, it was impressive at the time and it felt magical, something Disney is always the best at.
It wasn’t a masterpiece by any means, nor was it one of Disney’s strongest work, the original movie did suffer from slow pacing and at times it isn’t all that interesting, but once that big lovable 2D animated green dragon popped up, it turned into a visual marvel. And so with the popularity of computer animated special effects, director David Lowery (Deadroom, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Listen Up Phillip) brings a new take on Pete’s Dragon, only this time it’s a CG animated dragon that looks more realistic than the original.
Compared to the original, this is a rare case where I consider the new film to be much better than its predecessor, I know, even after the other positively reviewed live-action Disney remakes that came out I usually still preferred the originals, but not this time. This new Pete’s Dragon movie has a much better pacing and it keeps the narrative flowing, and the design of the dragon, as well as the animation on him are very impressive.
The movie follows a young boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley-Boardwalk Empire, Person of Interest, This is Where I Leave You) who has been living in the forest for a long time, since the sudden death of his parents. He has never been outside the forest nor has he ever made any human friends, but that doesn’t mean he’s all alone, he does however have one giant friend. A green dragon named Elliott who has the power of invisibility, camouflage, flying, and of course breathing fire.
Pete and Elliott have lived together in the forest, until a family comes across Pete and takes him to their home. The family consists of forest ranger and mother, Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard-Spider-Man 3, The Help, Jurassic World), her husband and lumber mill owner, Jack (Wes Bentley-American Beauty, The Hunger Games, Interstellar), their daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence-Lamb, Southpaw, Bad Moms), and her grandfather, Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford-All is Lost, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, A Walk in the Woods).
So the family wants to show Pete the human world while Pete wants to show them his forest world, and it’s all touching and sweet. That is until Jack’s brother, Gavin (Karl Urban-Riddick, Dredd, Star Trek franchise) learns that the dragon is real and attempts to catch him, it’s up to Pete and his new family to save Elliott before it’s too late.
Overall, Pete’s Dragon is a well-executed re-imagining of the Disney film, it balances between fantasy and family dilemmas very well and neither one overshadows the other. You grow to care about Pete and Elliott and you want to see them get reunited in the end, not to mention it can find a way into your feels.
Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence portray Pete and Natalie very well, and as I’m watching them I forget that they’re supposed to be acting, their performances are just like real kids, and I love young actors that can pull that off. Also Bryce Dallas Howard is great, I mean, come on, even if she’s in a bad movie like Terminator: Salvation she puts a lot of effort in her performances, Robert Redford is fantastic as well and surprisingly not at all a threatening type of character, I guess I was just so used to seeing him in the second Captain America movie, and the animation and voice work for Elliott is done well.
As a whole I enjoyed this film quite a bit, though I do think the movie did lose some of the magic of the original movie when it comes to the dragon. The original movie’s dragon was a hand-drawn animated character and it felt more magical in that world compared to the CG one here, perhaps if the CG dragon was designed by the folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios or Pixar, it’d probably look more impressive in contrast with the live-action, because it’s basically a generic movie dragon we’ve seen many times, it’s not a bad thing really, but I think I’d probably enjoy it more if the dragon was more animated.
Aside from that, it’s a solid re-imagining of the Disney film and a rare time where it surpasses the original. It’s a magical and exciting adventure for the entire family, humans, dragons, or otherwise.