Movie Review: ‘Pete’s Dragon’ (2016)


Director: David Lowery

Cast: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban, Wes Bentley, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford

Plot: A child named Pete loses his family in a car accident and subsequently lives in the woods for six years with Elliot, a large but friendly dragon. When Pete is discovered by a ranger and group of loggers the presence of the mythical creature, putting him in danger.

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Review: Disney have been doing well with the live-action reimagining of their classic films. Pete’s Dragon is different from the others, as it isn’t as well known to the current generation and was mostly live action to begin with. As the original isn’t quite up to scratch by modern expectations it is ripe for the remaking, especially with CGI available to bring the title character to life. And bring to life it does – Elliot looks pretty stunning, maintaining a cartoonish good nature without losing a sense of realism. It’s also worth noting right off the bat that the Elliot has a unique and distinctive design. He’s covered in a mossy coloured fur and features a canine snout, moving away from the traditional reptilian design. It’s always cool seeing something new, and it makes a lot of sense for a creature living in a wooded mountain region.

In spite of this being a CGI remake for a modern age it has an old school feel. It’s very much drawing on a genre of family films we don’t see any more. These family driven, realistic tales with a supernatural or magical twist were all over the place in the 70s and 80s, but have been replaced with franchises and pop-culture driven films. It’s nice to see a family film that doesn’t pander heavily to the marketing department’s needs and focusing on story telling and positive values. Good on you, guys.

Unfortunately it’s the story that is the weakest aspect of the film. What would have worked well, after the prologue featuring Pete meeting Elliot, if they skipped straight to Pete being discovered and the reality of Elliot being a matter of contention until the later in the film. Instead we get several scenes of characters sort of, not quite, being encountered by Pete and after he’s discovered recurring cutaways to Elliot tracking him only to turn back. This seems to out of a need to keep the dragon on screen and involved as often as possible, but the result is a padded, dragging plot that doesn’t seem to have a goal in mind. There’s no build up to the real conflict, which is logger Gavin (Urban, ironically named in these circumstances) capturing Elliot.

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In between this, sibling rivalry between Gavin and brother Jack (Wes Bentley and his beard), the relationship of the ranger (Howard) with her father, her father’s (Redford) previous experience with the dragon being dismissed, we end up with more story than really needed. Wes Bentley’s character could’ve been chopped out entirely with no impact on the plot. The movie feels longer than it needs be and it led to many kids fidgeting in their seats during the lag.

Although they’re not always given enough chance to flesh out their characters, the cast are all on good form. It’s a talented group of actors and you get the sense that they had an easy time of playing their roles and bouncing off each other, even when acting alongside a CGI dragon. This year Disney has done a good job of finding talent child actors to play kids raised in the wilderness (between this and The Jungle Book they’re really filling a niche).

If your kids are on the older side and you’re sick and the shallow and gimmicky fare like Alvin and the Chipmunks than this is a nice, relaxed afternoon out.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

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