Film Review: Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Pete’s Dragon is a remake of a 1977 Disney film of the same name but featured a cartoon dragon on live action rather than CGI. The original was also a musical rather than a straightforward drama. The new film was directed by David Lowery and stars Oakes Fegley as Pete, Oona Laurence as Natalie Magary, Robert Redford as Mr. Meacham, Bryce Dallas Howard as Grace Meacham, Wes Bentley as Jack Magary, and Karl Urban as Gavin Magary.
(^The original 1977 version)
Despite having loved The Jungle Book remake, I was not really running out to see this movie when it released (obviously, since I just watched it last night on Netflix). The trailers just didn’t excite me, and the fuzzy dragon was a big turn off. That being said, the reviews for the film were actually really good so I figured I’d give it a try and see what I thought myself. I’ve never seen the original film, so I won’t be able to compare the two. This review is my unbiased thoughts on this film alone.
As many others did, I actually enjoyed this movie quite bit. It was a fun adventure but also a serious story with a ton of heart.
The movie starts off on an extremely sad note: Pete and his family swerve off the road and crash their car, leaving the parents dead and Pete alone with nothing but his “Elliott Gets Lost” book. He then meets the hairy green dragon, who he names Elliott, and they become friends and stay together for the next six years. I thought this was a great way to start the movie, as dark as it is. It added an air of mystery to Elliott. Is he real or is he a figment of Pete’s trauma-induced imagination? Who is Elliott? Why is he here? Why does he help this young boy? All these questions are presented within the first five minutes, and not all of them are easily answered.
After a six year time jump, we are introduced to Robert Redford’s character, Mr. Meacham, who tells a few kids the story of how he met a dragon. This confirms that Elliott isn’t just Pete’s imagination, but it also suggests that Elliott only shows himself to certain people. This mystery around Elliott is eventually revealed to not be as complex as I originally thought, but it did keep me invested throughout the film. I liked the idea of having an older man and a young boy be the “believers” of the story. No one believes Redford’s story, and they certainly don’t believe Pete when he eventually meets them.
The plot really begins when Natalie, the daughter of a logging company owner, meets Pete during a deforestation job. The family brings Pete with them to the suburbs, and what follows is a fish out of water story where Pete is slowly being integrated into society and into a real family. At the same time, Elliott begins to miss Pete and wants him back. Also, Karl Urban’s character is trying to hunt down Elliott and become famous for his capture.
There’s “protect the earth” theme in this movie somewhere, but it’s not as in your face as Avatar or Tomorrowland, which I appreciated. This film focuses more on the treatment of animals, and the morality of hunting, when it comes to life lesson.
One thing I was really impressed with in the movie was how expressive Elliott was, despite having no spoken dialogue. It was very bold to make a dragon character with a dog-like personality. Elliott is essentially a big dog with wings, he is a faithful companion who protects and cares for Pete just as much as Pete cares for and protects him. They are inseparable partners. Elliott manages to communicate his emotions so perfectly through facial expressions, moans and grunts, as well as his eyes, which are often the only thing in a shot.
I was also really impressed by how few named characters there were. This really was a very contained story, only taking place in two or three sets. The story could have so easily been this huge to-do where the whole world gets involved because a dragon exists, but it instead stays in this small town and the nearby mountains, and focuses on it’s main characters.
All the performances were perfect, especially the two kids. Natalie is this sweet girl who is fascinated by Pete and wants to be friends with him. She teaches him about life, and makes him feel safe in a foreign environment. Pete was also played fantastically, giving just as much emotion in his words as his facial expressions. There is one scene towards the very end that I don’t want to spoil, but the shot focuses on his face for little while without any words, but it speaks volumes to his thoughts and emotions.
I would also like to praise the movie for not having a big bad villain. No corporate suits looking to make it big or profit off the suffering of others or nature. Karl Urban is definitely the antagonist, but he’s also human and has plenty of sympathetic qualities. No one is evil, just misguided and maybe a little scared.
This movie also has an incredible score that really immerses you into the film and lets you know just how to feel in every moment. Many of the songs reminded me of Soarin’ in Disney World, having a powerful song while showing the wonders of nature, leaving you with a sense of awe and amazement.
This movie is short, less than two hours, and I think it times out perfectly. Any longer would have likely dragged the story and left dull moments, but I felt this paced very well as it is. The setting is perfect for an isolated story, and to showcase the beauty of nature. The CGI is mostly very good but some smaller moments looked off (the deer that causes the crash looked very fake). The plot is pretty simple but in the best way, you didn’t need anything complicated to tell this story. I really don’t have too many flaws with the film, it’s almost perfect for what it is.
In the end, Pete’s Dragon is a very good movie with incredible performances and gorgeous visuals. I love the isolated story and the lack of a “villain.” This isn’t a movie I need to watch over and over again, but this is a perfect movie to watch in the background while doing something else, and a great family movie, if you don’t mind the dark beginning. I would definitely recommend checking this out, especially since it’s on Netflix, and I’ll definitely be buying this on Blu Ray for my Disney collection!
Now I’m off to find myself an Elliott plush…