I have no recollection of the original Pete’s Dragon. I may never have seen it. I love Disney movies, but that one must have slipped by. I know what Elliot, the dragon, looked like in that original, but that’s as far as my knowledge goes.
So, I went into this movie with nothing to compare it to. When I first heard that Disney was remaking this, I had no hype whatsoever. Then two things happened: (1) Jungle Book came out in April and impressed the hell out of me and (2) on a recent trip to Walt Disney World, I saw a 10 minute look at the movie that really impressed me, and made me look forward to it for the first time. I saw the movie today, and I have to say: I loved it. The story is simple: an orphaned boy is raised in the woods by an animal (in this case a dragon) but is then brought back into the world of man (and woman). We’ve seen that before. In Jungle Book. In Tarzan. In countless movies.
So, why bother with this one? Elliot. No longer the scaly green and purple dragon of the original. The Elliot of this movie is like a big green dog with wings… And displays some of the most amazing special effects I have seen in recent memory. Too many times, I will watch a movie and sigh at how bad the SFX look. SFX do not usually age well. I think this movie will be one of the rare exceptions.
From the unique way Elliot flies, to the amazingly expressive facial expressions, to his chamoflage, to his vocalization… This dragon feels real. There was not one moment that I felt that I was watching a special effect. It really is magical.
Beyond Elliot, the rest of the cast is great. Oakes Fegley makes a wonderful debut as Pete. Bryce Dallas Howard turns in an incredibly warm performance as a protector of nature. Robert Redford, always great, is fun to watch throughout as the old man who has felt the magic of the dragon once before. It would be easy for Disney to have a straightforward villain in Karl Urban, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was not as black and white as all that.
Plenty of credit has to go to David Lowery, the director. Disney took a huge gamble hiring an indie director without too many credits to his name. And that gamble paid off. Despite the great special effects I already mentioned, this is a movie that is very character driven, and an indie director may have been the perfect choice.
Great soundtrack too.
I would highly recommend this movie to all ages. The opening is heartbreaking (which may be a bit much for a younger audience), but as Disney has shown time and again: we have to go through the storm to get to the sunshine… And this movie left me feeling great.
I would give this movie an enthusiastic 8/10 Lugos. One of my favorites of the year.