Movie review: ‘Pete’s Dragon’ improves on the original
–In 1977, Disney released a hybrid live-action/animated film called “Pete’s Dragon.” Set in the northeast, the film centered on an orphan with a troubled relationship with his adoptive parents that relied on his friendship with a dragon, Elliott, that not many could see.
The film featured Mickey Rooney and Red Buttons, and it was one in a long line of Disney films that became somewhat of a classic for a certain generation of viewers. But in this era where everything seems to be getting re-made and re-imagined, it’s not surprise that “Pete’s Dragon” has been re-born.
Aside from the names, pretty much everything about the new movie has changed. It’s still about an orphan boy named Pete and his dragon, Elliott, but the story, setting and style of film is totally new. And, best of all, it works, probably better than the original.
The new film centers on a boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) who is orphaned in the forest after his parents are killed in a car crash. There, wandering alone, he comes across a dragon who he names Elliott. Six years later, Pete and Elliot have built a life for themselves away from society in the woods. But society is creeping closer.
First, Pete stumbles across as forest ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is surveying. Next, Pete and Elliott run into a crew led by brothers Jack (Wes Bentley) and Gavin (Karl Urban) who are trying to keep their lumber mill afloat. Jack also happens to be Grace’s fiancé.
When Jack’s daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence), stumbles across Pete in the woods, he’s brought back to town as Grace and the local sheriff (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) try to find his family.
With his friend missing, Elliott sets out for the nearby town to find Pete, revealing himself to the world and confirming a long-told legend by Grace’s father, Meacham (Robert Redford), about what really resides in the forest.
I am young enough that I was not yet born when the original “Pete’s Dragon” was released. I’ve seen the film before growing up, but it wasn’t one that became an instant personal favorite. Perhaps that’s why I was more open to the idea of a re-make being made.
Since the first trailers were released, I’ve been curious to see what this new version of “Pete’s Dragon” would be like. I went in not sure where the story would go, and what I got was a sweet, family-friendly film that takes the idea of the original and does something different. It’s largely a credit to the performers in the movie that it comes off so well and so engaging.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that technology has improved a great deal. Elliott is no longer a two-dimensional drawing, but a three-dimensional computer rendering. That helps give him better personality and adds to the stakes of the film.
The performances are all solid. Redford is great in the wise, older grandfather role. Howard is strong as Grace, with some solid performances from Bentley and Urban. But the real find is newcomer Begley, who does a lot of the heavy lifting of the film as Pete.
“Pete’s Dragon” isn’t the most lavish or action-packed film, but it’s one of the more satisfying entries of the summer. It’s an engaging story told at a good pace that offers something for audiences of all ages. It’s a re-make that offers something new and, to me, better the original. That’s quite a feat.
“Pete’s Dragon” has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for action, peril and brief language.
Three stars out of four.