New home releases are a bit thin at the moment, so I took a little time towards checking out those from last year which I had missed. Granted, there’s a HEAP of them to go through, but “Pete’s Dragon” seems like the perfect middle-ground space to begin from!
Based on the old animated Disney movie of the same name (which I haven’t yet seen), a young boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) finds himself alone after a car accident which leaves his parents dead. He runs into the forest, and comes across a green dragon who he calls Elliot. Six years pass with them together, until Pete is seen by a Park Ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), which sets the story in action of Pete returning unwillingly to the real world once again.
I won’t spend all too long on this one, since the story elements are very simple. To be totally honest, I went into this expecting to be generally unimpressed – it just didn’t seem the script that could be woven into a story that would properly succeed. And even though it initially felt like it would go in that direction due to the very thin plot, it soon starts impressing. The story has extremely little excess baggage to carry about in the form of secondary messages, or aspects to distract from the central themes. As plain as things are, they managed to make it surprisingly tight.
Elliot being the central character besides Pete, is like a blend between Tootless and Trico (from The Last Guardian). the thought of him being intimidating melts away after you see how totally adorable and cute he acts. You do get to see his Hulk-ish side later on, but really, this is the kind of awesome dragon every young kid will dream of meeting. His CG and effects are relatively good and incorporated into the environments well, even though he is in the shade so often that you rarely get to see him in all his splendour – possibly to hide up the sharp edges on the effects.
As for the story itself… mix “ET” and “The Jungle Book” together to get an idea of how it plays out. Even though you are seeing story elements and themes that have been done many times before, the script is so honest about it, that I was able to pass off quite a fair bit of it. That acting is surprisingly good – Oakes Fegley is very charismatic and translates his emotions very well. The supporting cast around him do a good job of filling in the gaps as well, even Robert Redford as Grace’s father has a few nice appearances. The antagonists are over-played to a level that didn’t need to be done though, it makes their moments of invoking danger feel very forced.
But the third act (even though it is all telegraphed) made me really care about this dragon. Just like ET, it would be almost criminal not to get a little emotional during the escape scene. The same goes for here, with it all wrapping up in a manner that feels… nice. Nothing at all that will be stuck in your mind for days afterwards, but enough to make you feel good once the credits start rolling.
“Pete’s Dragon” is at the core aspects an unambitious and quite plain live action adaptation by Disney, but at the same time that honestly about it all makes the movie very sweet and even tugs at the heart strings just a little. Enough for the parents to enjoy sitting through it, but their kids will absolutely love it. There are no annoying modern references to sit through, nor any lame jokes, it is all just very sincere by sticking close to those primary emotional tones. This one won’t be winning any spot of pride on your movie shelf, but… you will enjoy it enough to feel good about it by the end.
Thanks for reading!