Director David Lowery transforms the story of a young boy and his big friendly dragon into a darker, more somber affair in which moments of magic bubble to the surface of a real and dangerous world. But it is still a charming, old-fashioned family film that echoes E.T. and even harks back to the days of Lassie Come Home.
The opening scenes depict all the force and horror of a car accident in which Pete’s parents are killed. The youngster survives and crawls from the crash site into the woods. You wouldn’t give good odds on his survival but among all the scary noises and frightening wolves, Pete finds a protector in a furry, lovable green dragon that he calls Elliot. The years pass as Pete (now played by Oakes Fegley) and Elliot become the best of friends. However as a logging company starts to chop down their own personal playground, the pair is discovered by forest ranger Grace (Dallas Bryce Howard).
Given that Pete has become a cross between Mowgli and a young Tarzan, the big questions are how he will cope with his return to civilization and what happens once the local community learn about Elliot. Grace’s woodcarver grandpa Meacham (Robert Redford) has always spun tall tales about what lurks in the woods and now it seems he might have been telling the truth. In a summer largely filled with hectic, big-budget blockbusters top-heavy with special effects and bombast, Pete’s Dragon is sweetly refreshing in its gentle demeanour and traditional storytelling. The dragon has a puppy-dog charm rather than ferocity and the film is all about family connections, growing up and feeling safe. There is a villain of the piece in Karl Urban’s Gavin and his dastardly plan to hunt Elliott down but he never seems much of a threat to the film’s mild-mannered, understated approach.
The big dramas here are all about Pete, his friendship with Elliot and finding a place they can both call homes. There are no great demands upon the adult actors but Dallas Bryce Howard is suitably sincere as the kindly Grace and Redford, who turns 80 this month, is still an effortless, twinkly-eyed charmer as the wise old grandpa. The acting honors fall to Oakes Fegley who captures all the dilemmas and insecurities of the young Pete and makes us care about his friendship with the cuddly Elliot. It may be extremely slight and even too wholesome for modern tastes but Pete’s Dragon is still welcome family fare.
Directed By: David Lowery
Written By: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks, Malcolm Marmorstein
In Theaters: 25 August 2016
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Genre: Animation, Kids &Family