Directed By: David Lowery
Run Time: 103 minutes
Having seen the 1977 musical version of Pete’s Dragon, I wasn’t too sure that a remake was wanted or needed. The sad tale of orphan Pete who escapes his alcoholic and abusive adoptive parents with the help of a green and purple cartoon dragon didn’t seem like a top contender for a makeover from Disney. Luckily, this new version ditches most of the original story and only keeps the main characters of orphan Pete and his best friend, magical dragon Elliot in a completely reimagined story that is a welcome respite from all of those big loud summer blockbusters.
Pete is only about five years old when his family adventure in the woods turns tragic. A car accident kills Pete’s parents, leaving the helpless little boy all alone in the woods with only a picture book and the clothes on his back. When wolves descend on the terrified child, he is saved by a giant green dragon who Pete decides to name Elliot. Pete and Elliot become the best of friends, and live happily together in the deepest parts of the forest. The CGI created Elliot looks fantastic, from his friendly gaze to his furry body to his playful smile. Elliot and Pete are inseparable, and their bond is displayed in several playful sequences as the two run and frolic and live together all alone in the woods.
Fast forward six years, and the forest is much smaller thanks to the logging industry. Pete (Oakes Fegley) is discovered by forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), as she argues with logger Gavin (Karl Urban) over how far into the forest he and his team can cut trees. She brings the scared and confused Pete to the hospital, separating him from Elliot. Grace doesn’t understand where Pete came from and how he has survived in the wild for so long all alone. Pete tries to explain Elliot to Grace, but the only person who believes him is Grace’s father Mr. Meacham (the always welcome Robert Redford). It turns out that Mr. Meacham had an encounter with Elliot once himself, and knows that a magical dragon lives in their woods. Of course the secret of Elliot doesn’t last long as mean old Gavin heads back to the woods and finds Elliot, who is frantically searching for his beloved Pete. Gavin traps Elliot, and then it is up to Pete and Grace to save Elliot from a life in captivity.
What really strikes me about this lovely film is how quaint and old fashioned it seems. The entire story takes place in a small northern town and the surrounding forest and we never travel much farther. They even use an old fashioned record player! There are long periods of silence where the soundtrack is singing birds and the wind in the woods. The scenes are so calming in comparison to the normal noises of the world. They just don’t make movies like this anymore. Despite all of this, your kids will be entertained by the action sequences and obligatory car chase (and of course you get to see Elliot breathe fire because that’s what dragons do!) Still, Pete’s Dragon is the soothing aloe vera at the end of a summer of sunburned action flicks.
School is about to start and I am looking forward to the end of summer blockbusters and the beginning of the more serious minded films of fall. Here’s hoping that we have a terrific season ahead of us!