Written by: David Lowery, Toby Halbrook, Malcolm Marmorstein, Seton Miller & S.S.Field (Original).
Directed by: David Lowery
Starring: Oakes Fegley, Dallas Bryce Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
This remake of the 1977 Disney classic is about a little boy who gets lost out in the woods after a tragic accident, where he befriends a dragon.
In the Woods
On a family road trip, five-year-old Pete (Oakes Fegley) and his parents meet with an accident in which the latter are tragically killed. Pete survives and stumbles into the woods where he meets a large green dragon that protects him from a pack of hungry wolves.
Jump ahead to six years later, and we meet the Meacham family. Mr Meacham (Robert Redford) tells the story of how he once saw a dragon in the woods, but no one believes him, especially not his daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is the Park Ranger. Grace, however, has to swallow her skepticism when her daughter Natalie finds Pete and his dragon friend on a trip to the forest with Grace’s husband Jack (Wes Bentley) and his brother Gavin (Karl Urban).
Pete has now named the dragon Elliot, and has survived this long in the woods with Elliot being his only family. By this point, Elliot has woken up and realized Pete is missing, so he comes out of hiding to look for him, which leads to him being discovered by Gavin.
What follows is the story of Pete’s reconnection to civilization, coming to terms with family, and trying to deal with the town learning about Elliot.
The fact that the original might be one of Disney’s lesser-known musicals, might have actually worked in director David Lowery’s favour. This allowed him and screenwriter Tony Halbrooks to have their way with the script and change things around.
The essence of the plot remains the same. However, a few changes have been made to Pete’s back story; the backward family plot has been avoided. Other noteworthy changes would be the quick pace at which everyone learns about Elliot and the absence of the traditional ‘antagonist’ by just having Karl Urbans’ character worry about hunting down the creature in the woods.
The soundtrack was also updated, and managed to add to the film, but won’t leave you with anything particularly memorable as compared to the song ‘Every Little Piece’ from the original. All in all, though, the changes really work well to update what was originally a cheesy 1977 musical.
Unfortunately, the success they had with the music is not shared with the story. This leads to a major flaw; there just isn’t enough of ‘Pete and Elliot’.
For a movie called Pete’s Dragon, the movie isn’t as much about Pete’s dragon, as it is about a boy named Pete, who lost his family, and is on a journey to find acceptance and a new family, all the while having a friend named Elliot. The very few scenes the two have together, aside from the initial few establishing ones, really don’t allow us to fully see their bond, which is a big drawback.
The CGI for Elliot is fantastic and has done perfectly what would have been the most difficult part of this adaptation. In a post GOT/How To Train Your Dragon world, Elliot’s physical appearance is perfect and very appealing to the audience. There are some spectacular shots of Pete and Elliot flying in the clouds. Add to that Elliot’s ability to turn invisible and you are presented with some lovely visuals. When you watch Elliot, his emotions definitely come through, and some of the scenes will definitely tug at your heartstrings.
Lost In the Oaks
Oakes Fegley (This Is Where I Leave You, Children of The Moon) is a testament to the casting team for this film, as he plays the part perfectly. You can’t help but smile along when he does. He even resembles the boy from the original. You find yourself wishing he had more scenes with Elliot as the few they had were some of the best.
The Meecham family were your generic family model, with Robert Redford (The Sting, Out Of Africa) seeming to be in auto pilot as the cliché old man in town who is actually wiser than people give him credit for. Dallas Bryce Howard (Jurassic World, 50/50) does a good job of playing the skeptical park ranger. You certainly feel she is more in her element here than she was in Jurassic World.
Karl Urban (Star Trek, The Loft) plays a cliché; the ‘unlikeable’ character who hunts after Elliot. However, he actually carries some of the funniest scenes in the movie, and kudos to him to finding the balance and not playing a stereotypical ‘villain’.
All In All
Pete’s Dragon is a smart update and is a fun watch for parents who want to introduce their children to the Disney of their childhood. The film tells a good story about growing up, learning to be open to the world, and the importance of family in whatever form you have it.
The lack of screen time for Pete and Elliot plays against them, which leaves you feeling a little empty from all the set up and promise the movie makes. So, in essence, what could have been a classic ultimately lacks the fire that a movie about a friendship with a dragon should have.
WATCH IT IF YOU’RE: A fan of the original OR in the mood for a good family adventure.