Film Review: Pete's Dragon

This sweet, old-fashioned, live-action remake of Disney’s live-action/animation musical of the same title is a comforting throwback to the studio’s days of dependable family fare, although there’s not a whole lot here for parents beyond Robert Redford.
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Disney’s new iteration of its 1977 fantasy adventure here boasts a fine cast, lovely New Zealand locations and a lovable CGI-generated dragon that amounts to a nice cinematic package to delight youngsters. No envelopes are pushed but emotional buttons will be, as Oakes Fegley as the young hero and his huge furry dragon pal Elliot will win hearts. Also worthy are the film’s messages of preserving our forest and wildlife (deer, hare, etc. make appearances), in spite of some loggers and lamebrained hunters who especially do damage.

Oh, and as this is Disney, magic is also the message.

True to Disney’s traditional uplifting spirit and light touch, Pete’s Dragon delivers a plot as predictable and serviceable as Ovaltine. It begins with a brief setup that has five-year-old Pete orphaned in a dense and remote forest after surviving a car accident that kills his parents.

Six years later, eleven-year-old Pete (Oakes Fegley), having survived these years on his own, has become a kind of tree-climbing wild child who has befriended lovable dragon Elliott, which, while huge in size, is a furry creature with a darling face and personality. Any resemblance to a huge beloved mutt is intentional.

Meanwhile, not so far from their remote forest in the town of Millhaven, lives Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford), a woodcarver given to tall tales (or are they?) about a dragon he saw deep in the nearby woods. His daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) works the forest as a ranger and has doubted her father’s tales until she meets Pete, who tells her about Elliot.

Grace’s boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley), owner of the local lumber mill, is also a doubter, but eventually he and his young daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence), after many an adventure with Pete, come around. Of course, Pete and Natalie, both pre-teens, form a nice bond as Elliot becomes more integral to their lives.

All’s quiet on the sylvan front for Pete and Elliot until interlopers enter the picture. Cue the film’s inevitable villain, Gavin (Karl Urban), a logger and hunter hungry for the kill, who, with his creepy cronies, takes after poor Elliot.

Along the way, Pete’s Dragon delivers some wonderfully tender scenes, a few suspenseful ones, and a nifty car and flatbed chase that may have Elliot escaping by a hair on his vast body.

Similar in a number ways to the current family film pleaser Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Pete’s Dragon benefits from sweeping New Zealand cinematography and, supporting its rustic, nature-blessed theme, a music soundtrack comprising familiar Disney filler sweeps and folky/country vocal selections. Also signature to Disney, tears are likely to be coaxed from many a viewer’s eyes.

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