It was if yesterday I watched an animated dragon heat up an apple for a shaggy-haired orphaned boy, while the narrator of Pushing Daisies was trying to acquire said dragon. Oh, how the times have changed.
Synopsis (via IMDB.com)
The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon.
My poor mother must have been through heck and back again with me when I was younger because I wore down our top-loading VHS player with Disney’s 1977 Pete’s Dragon. I honestly loved that film. Yes, its story was a bit goofy, disjointed and overacted, but it had a cool animated dragon! What kid wouldn’t want an animated dragon to follow them around? Anyway, the film is endearing to me, so apologies if this review is a little skewed when it comes to opinion. Honestly, I did have mix feelings when it was announced, as I’m not a huge fan of remakes, but as it grew closer to release, the grown-up me understood that Disney and director David Lowery could potentially make a better film from the original story and adapt all of its animated goodness into a better, coherent movie going experience.
I was mostly right.
Without delay, let’s get into this.
The first act opens with one of the more emotional portions of the film, which is the orphan-ing of Pete. His parents get in a car wreck, he survives and is taken under the wing (literally/figuratively) by a large dragon living in the pacific northwest. Fast forward a few years and the story shifts to a man named Meacham (Robert Redford), who has seen the dragon and has recounted the story of it over and over again. His park ranger daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) loves his stories (sorta), but would prefer he doesn’t poison kids’ heads with it, especially at the expense of people avoiding the woods she maintains. Oddly related, Grace is married to Jack (Wes Bentley), the supervisor of a tree cutting company that features a loose canon of a friend named Gavin (Karl Urban), who is set on making a name for himself in whatever way he can. Outside of character introductions, the crux of the first act revolves around getting to know Pete and his dragon Elliot and how much they mean to each other. Pete trusts Elliot with his life, as the dragon is the reason that Pete has survived the harsh pacific northwest conditions. Just as equally as important is what Pete means to Elliot, who was incredibly lonely without Pete. Both are go hand-in-hand with each other emotionally and know each other like the back of their hand/dragon paw. Sadly, the first act ends with Pete’s discovery and capture by Grace’s daughter.
The first act is a bit bloated, but endearing and meaningful. The characters are explained slowly, though not through lots of exposition (maybe they should have been). Everyone is defined pretty well, but I have to wonder why a forest ranger would marry a man involved with cutting down trees (opposites attract, I guess). Anyway, director David Lowery does a good job of giving us an explanation of who and why the players ‘are’ in the first act. I especially appreciate the time spent on showing the relationship between Pete and Elliot, as that makes what happens in act two and three a bit more understood. Speaking of act two, let’s get to it.
Act two has Grace and crew taking Pete in until his missing family can be found (SPOILER ALERT – They died – SPOILER END). In the meantime, Pete does his best to get back into the grove of human life outside of the confines of the forest. It takes a few tries, especially when Pete tries to escape multiple times to make it back to Elliot, but eventually Pete comes around to accept he is human and needs to live in human environments. In the meantime, Elliot is being hunted by Gavin, who is determined to prove that a dragon exists in the forest, which he eventually does. Gavin’s discovery leads to the capture of Elliot by the end of the second act and the destruction of Elliot/Pete’s home they had built together.
The second act is a bit long in the tooth, as Lowery seems to get lost with what he is trying to focus on in the story. He spends a large amount of time with Pete, though not providing any real substance that couldn’t be wrapped up in 10 minutes. He spends some time with Elliot, though it’s mostly with the dragon trying to find Pete, which feels a bit directionless at times. Regardless, the second act does a good job of showing Pete’s progression with Grace and crew, as well as the impending crisis that is going to go down in act three (Elliot is captured and he has to be freed).
As usual, Digitalchumps won’t be getting too much into the third act (don’t want to ruin it). I will say that the action gets ramped up a bit, the humor gets a bit notched up and the ending is oddly satisfying. In other words, the shakiness of act two is pieced together and forgiven by the time act three wraps. The film becomes quite good by the end.
Overall, Pete’s Dragon is far better than the original, though the movie certainly has some flaws hiding inside its own forest. It does come together at the end, which makes Pete and Elliot’s journey more satisfying. Kids will definitely love this one and hopefully the film will create a new generation of Pete’s Dragon fans that will wear down their parents’ Blu-ray/4K player.
In regards to special features included, here is what you’re getting:
– Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary
– Making Magic
– Disappearing Moments
– Welcome to New Zealand
– Audio Commentary
– Music Videos
“Nobody Knows” by The Lumineers
“Something Wild” by Lindsey Stirling featuring Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Lots to like here and a set of features that compliment the feature quite well. This is typical for a big Disney release, though, which is okay by me.