There were a couple moments where the audience found itself on the back of Elliot, the clumsy and lovable dragon. While flying through the skies of Millhaven, my inner-child felt free to explore the innocence of imagination as it did years ago. It helped that there were times I could relate to Pete (Oakes Fegley), even as a 23-year-old man.
“Pete’s Dragon” brings to life a reimagined version of the 1977 Disney musical. The 2016 version (no, it isn’t a musical) is a tale of a young boy, Pete, losing his parents early in his life and being adopted by a dragon he names Elliot, inspired by a book given to him. The film then jumps forward six years later after the crash, where Pete and Elliot are best buds. The forest they’ve made their home is in danger, though. Jack (Wes Bentley) and Gavin (Karl Urban) are brothers who work in the lumber business. Funnily enough, Jack’s wife, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is also the local forest ranger, is against the planned deforestation.
Do Elliot and Pete get to keep their home and stay together, or do larger evils prevail? It’s a simplistic conflict fit for a child, but “Pete’s Dragon” provides charming and adorable moments even adults can love.
Young director David Lowery beautifully captures the bond between Elliot and Pete. It helps that the CGI work on the dragon was good — not great, but good. Where Lowery shines is how he directed Fegley and Oona Laurence (Natalie, daughter of Grace and Jack), two child actors that took the reins and didn’t let go. These two had plenty of moments to shine, and shine they did.
There are plenty of feel-good Disney moments, but everything becomes predictable, which is one of the problems with “Pete’s Dragon.”
I get it, I get it, its a PG film made for children who don’t need anything too surprising. Although, it would’ve benefitted the film in the latter half. As “Pete’s Dragon” progressed, I caught myself predicting some of the cutest moments in the film. I still smiled and chuckled, but the charm wore off a tad during the third act.
The best performance goes to Fegley, who nailed the portrayal of a child longing to be free from society’s norms. There’s a sequence where we watch Pete jump onto cars and school buses, attempting to escape the seemingly normal town of Millhaven. He makes the audience feel for his character, and that’s rare for most child actors.
However, outside of Fegley, everyone’s performance was … safe. Bryce Dallas Howard didn’t run in high-heeled shoes and did an alright job at conveying some of the more emotional moments of the film. Urban was probably the most disappointing, but his role wasn’t meant to have awe-induced lines. Still, always nice to see the good doctor on the Silver Screen.
If there’s one actor I wished got more screen time as the end credits rolled, it’s Robert Redford’s role as a father to Grace and of the crazy old man who’s seen a dragon. He was funny, cheerful and the one actor who didn’t force their lines, unlike the others who, at times, felt as if their scripts were held behind the camera.
“Pete’s Dragon” has family fun written all over it and delivers on its charming moments. It’s an incredibly safe film (i.e. guns are shown and don’t fire anything but tranquilizers) where there’s predictability, nothing too shocking and a positive message.
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“Pete’s Dragon” has a runtime of 102 minutes and is released on Aug. 12. The early screening is thanks to Sly Fox and Walt Disney Studios.