The original 1977 Pete’s Dragon is one of my favorite Disney movies from my childhood, and based on Disney’s job with the new Jungle Book, I had high hopes for this one.
This is an impressive re-imagining, although it’s much different than the orignial. The tone isn’t quite as dark, and gone are the themes of alcoholism and abuse. This one is about magic and believing in something without seeing it.
Director, David Lowery wanted this film to stand on its own apart from the original. Keeping true to his goal, there are basically zero nods to its source material.
It’s practically a remake in name only–with the exception of the 2 lead characters, Pete and Elliot. But not to worry, because it still hangs on to the spirit of its predecessor.
The film opens up with a young boy, Pete (Oakes Fegley), becoming abandoned in the forest after a car crash kills his parents. Elliot, a giant green dragon, takes him in and the two become best friends.
It’s one of the best friendships in recent film history, and a lot of emotion is drawn out of both Pete and Elliot by Lowery. It’s not a film where the emotion tries to manipulate you. It’s naturally charged.
Fegley is excellent as Pete. He’s not overly precocious or coy. And the supporting cast, including Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban, and Wes Bentley, fills in the gaps around him nicely.
Pete’s Dragon doesn’t take itself too seriously. For a family film, it understands humor, and the jokes never come off as childish.
At times, things in the film are taken slowly. This isn’t a bad thing at all. Throughout the whole movie, you won’t see any 21st century technology. Even the cars are ambiguously dated. It’s to keep the time period vague, but it’s also to compliment the film’s philosophy on exploration and adventure.
But the heart of the film is the relationship between Pete and Elliot.
It’s emotional. I didn’t just cry. I balled my eyes out. Anyone who’s had an animal as a best friend will get this movie just a little bit more.
It’s a simple film. Which proves even more how good it is. If a film is this simple without being boring, you know the filmmakers are doing something right.