Disney’s ecologically minded and morally minded remake of its 1977 classic Pete’s Dragon is an odd little film but it is sweet and I liked it. Though warm, friendly, down-home and old fashioned Americana, it is quite scary for small kids, though they’ll probably like that about it too. It is quite a nice mix of cosy and quirky.
This time Oakes Fegley (who must have landed the role of woods boy simply on the strength of his first name) plays the orphaned wild child named Pete, who, after the death of his parents in a horrendous car crash (this is how the film starts, taking no prisoners), grows up living in the woods and has a surprisingly friendly dragon as his best friend Elliot.
Bryce Dallas Howard plays the non-nonsense, tomboyish woodswoman forest warden Grace (an American relative of Mary Poppins) who, along with her lumberjack manager boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley) and his daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence), encounters the now six years older Pete near a harvesting site when loggers are encroaching deep into the forest.
They take him back to their house for the night and in the morning attempt to reunite the boy with his dragon, but Jack’s greedy brother Gavin (Karl Urban) leads fearful townsfolk to hunt down Elliot, seeking fame and fortune King Kong-style for catching a monster.
Fegley is fine and Howard is a good actress, so the central roles are well taken care of. It’s a shame that Howard has such a one-dimensional heroine role, but somebody’s got to do it, and she’s fine. Robert Redford takes on Mickey Rooney’s old role as granddad, who believes in dragons when nobody else does – at least of course till they see Elliot. In his first Disney movie, Redford is a bit over-qualified for this role, but he makes a nice job of it, establishing good, warm rapport with Howard as his daughter.
It’s a shame that Urban has such a one-dimensional villain role, but somebody’s got to do it, and he’s fine. Give him better work next time, people! Bentley’s role is absolutely thankless, but he was probably thankful to get it, or at least the cheque.
Ah, dragons, how we love them, the adorably scary flying, fire-breathing monsters! You wonder why this particular dragon can’t fly at first, then later it does, and then you wonder why the dragon can’t breathe fire at first, then later it does. This is the basic ET flaw, we never knew it could cycle through the sky till it does. Ah, well, the magic of the movies! But then you ask yourself why didn’t the creature do that a long time ago in the movie.
And when the dragon does breathe fire, it finally becomes a bit scary, again quite scary for small kids, though they’ll probably love it. The CGI dragon is pretty well done, though this Elliot is not as appealing as the traditionally animated 1977 one. It’s not the star of the movie, but anyway cute enough.
Nevertheless, Disney have got good value for their $65 million, which they should recoup easily. By the way, it is a very middle class, middle-of-the-road, middle America traditionally minded movie, with Isiah Whitlock Jr noticeably having the film’s only non-white role as the local Sheriff, Gene Dentler.
The film feels way out of time, the story locked in a time warp, even though they’ve made a good job of making it seem still relevant. The message about destroying nature and our environment isn’t just strapped on, it’s the whole theme of the story. The music and songs are a bit of a pain in Daniel Hart’s original score, though Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography is lovely.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Movie Review
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