|Copyright Walt Disney Motion Pictures|
Go north, go north with wings on your feet
North with the wind where the three rivers meet
Look all around you and see
Deep in the forest, there dragons will be
~ David Lowy and Toby Halbrooks
David Lowry’s reboot of Disney’s 1977 fairy story “Pete’s Dragon” is not so much a remake as it is a complete reimagining of the story of a boy named Pete, and his best friend and protector Elliot the dragon. The live action/CGI movie stars Oakes Fegley as Pete, Bryce Dallas Howard as Grace, and Robert Redford as Grace’s father Meacham. The screenplay was written by David Lowry and Toby Halbrooks.
Following a tragic accident, a tiny orphan named Pete is rescued by a dragon. Pete and the gentle dragon, whom he names Elliot, live happily together deep in a forest in the American Northwest. After several years their idyllic existence is interrupted when Pete is discovered by a girl named Natalie, and a kindly forest ranger named Grace. Grace takes Pete to stay with her until the authorities can find out where he came from.
Grace’s greedy future brother-in-law discovers Elliot, and decides to capture him and exploit him for money. Pete, Natalie, Grace, and Meacham must help Elliot before it’s too late. And, in the end Pete has a hard decision to make.
This is David Lowry’s first time directing a major motion picture. Previously he worked on indie films. With Pete’s Dragon he does a good job of giving us characters that we are invested in, and conveying magic, suspense, danger, heartache, and joy. The story has a very different feel as compared to other Disney films, and it’s a nice change.
There are some problems, though. For instance, he has a bit of trouble of wrapping things up, especially with the villain’s story arc. He also seems to have run out of time before he could tie up loose ends. Lowry gives us a lot of magical and heartwarming moments at the beginning of the film; however, spending too much time on that caused him to run out of time to wrap up other crucial parts of the story. It’s a matter of him learning to kill his little darlings, as Allen Ginsberg would say.
Lowry gets very good performances from his actors. Young Oakes Fegley gives an especially moving and natural performance as Pete. What can I say about Robert Redford? The gifted veteran actor is, as always, a delight on the screen. He’s an old man now, and has allowed himself to age gracefully, rather than fall into Hollywood’s trap of Botox, fillers, and cosmetic surgery. He’s still handsome, and that famous smile is as contagious as ever. Bryce Dallas Howard gives a gentle and understated performance. It's a nice change to see her play a truly kind person. She does it as well as she does the really vile characters she often portrays.
As far as the design for Elliot’s character, he’s more shaggy dog in appearance than dragon. He brings to mind Falkor the luck dragon from the classic fantasy film “The Neverending Story.” He does resemble the original Elliot from the original version of “Pete’s Dragon” with his snaggle-tooth, chubby tummy, sweet expression, and furry shock of hair on top of his head. His vocalizations were very nicely performed by actor John Kassir. Although the concept for the dragon could have been better, Elliot is a very lovable and cuddly character who can break your heart. One couldn't want for a better friend.
Overall, “Pete’s Dragon” is an enjoyable fairy tale. It does, however contain some really intense scenes that could be upsetting. The music, location, and cinematography are beautiful. While the story has some flaws, "Pete's Dragon" is enchanting and heartwarming. Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars; see it.