Movie Reviews

Published on August 12th, 2016 | by Joseph Saulnier

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Pete’s Dragon

Pete’s Dragon is a staple of my childhood.  It was one of the three movies I would always choose to watch.  So, naturally, I was a little worried when I heard about the new movie earlier this year.  The teaser trailer didn’t give much to go by, but it looked promising.  I trying something new this year where I do not watch anything beyond the teaser trailer (believe me, it’s killing me not to watch the new Rogue One trailer), so that’s all I had going into this.  And I was pleasantly surprised.

 

39 years after the original, David Lowery brings us the re-invention of Pete’s Dragon.  His aim was not to remake the original film, but to reinvent it.  And that he did.  PD opens up with a family traveling through a forest on a road trip.  The young boy, Pete (Levi Alexander) is reading from a book about a lost puppy name Elliot.  A tragic accident occurs, which leaves Pete by himself in the forest.  As he starts to wander, a pack of wolves begins to close in on him, only to be thwarted by… you guessed it.  A dragon.

 

Flash forward 6 years, and we now see an older Pete (Oakes Fegley) running around through the forest with Elliot, the dragon who he bonded with over the years.  Pete happens upon a forest ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) as she is scouting the forest, unmarking trees that were marked for cut down.  She’s not a rebel, just protecting the habitat of an owl.  Turns out her fiancé, Jack (Wes Bentley), and his brother, Gavin (Karl Urban), run the company that is tearing down the forest.  One day, they happen upon Pete and bring him home, but Pete misses Elliot, and Elliot misses Pete.  In an effort to get back to him, Elliot is discovered by Gavin who wants to hunt down Pete and bring him in.  Grace seeks assistance from her father, Meachum (Robert Redford), who was always thought of as a crazy old man with his wild story of a dragon he met so many years ago.  Can they help save Elliot from Gavin and his men?

 

While a little darker than the original, I found that I enjoyed this movie quite a lot.  There are some plot holes to consider, and a little unbelievable on how fast the story develops in time passed in the universe set up here, but you have to understand that this movie is geared toward children.   And I think they did well in creating an entertaining film for children and nostalgic adults alike.  In fact, this screening was the quietest family screening I have ever attended.  There were plenty of kids in the audience, but they were captivated.

 

Keeping in mind that this is truly a children’s movie, my biggest gripe was the absence of my favorite scene from the original (scorched apples, anyone?).  But all in all, it is definitely something to get out to theaters to see.  Lowery had indicated that he chose the appearance for Elliot as he did because he wanted to portray a dragon you could hug.  Success, Mr. Lowery.  Success.  Pete’s Dragon is good fun for the whole family, so what are you waiting for?  Go see it, already.

 

4 out of 5 stars

 

Second Review by Ryan Guerra

Relying on live action and CGI effects, Disney has struck gold of late by re-telling their “classic” stories within a live-action framework.  Hot of the success of recent entertaining remake of The Jungle Book, Disney is looking to once again tell us the story of a little boy’s adventure with a fantastical creature in Pete’s Dragon.

Full disclosure, I have never seen the original 1977s Pete’s Dragon. I have no idea how dissimilar this modern remake is to the Disney original. So if you are looking to find out how Disney is destroying your childhood, look elsewhere. But if you stay you will be happy to know that Pete’s Dragon is exactly what the trailers make it out to be. A simple, wholesome, family film…with a giant Bird-Dog!

When a tragic accident causes Pete (Oakes Fegley) to be lost in the forest, he finds an unexpected best friend and protector in a giant green dragon he names Elliot. Elliot looks after Pete until one fateful day where Pete crosses paths with a little girl, her family and a small town. Suddenly, Pete is conflicted as he remembers people and family and how that would take him away from Elliot.

Elliot the dragon is not a mean and scaly dragon in the traditional fantasy sense. You won’t see him in Game of Thrones or even Disney’s own Sleeping Beauty.  Rather, Elliot looks and behaves like a giant Bird-Dog. Yep…and it’s awesome! You never realized how much you like a Bird-Dogs until you watch the bond between Elliot and Pete in the forest. Fegley does a fantastic job being the wide-eyed little boy who understands the weight of his situation. Not an easy task for a young actor. Couple that with the likable friendly dragon who acts like dog and you find the strongest part of the film.

However the rest of the film suffers from slow pacing and an overly simple story. For a film that is aimed at families with young children, there doesn’t seem to be enough happening on screen to keep the young one’s attention whenever Elliot is not on screen. There was barely enough to keep mine.

Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a forest ranger who wants to protect the woods from her soon to be brother-in-law Gavin (Karl Urban). Gavin runs a lumber mill and is constantly cutting deeper in the forest then he is permitted. To be clear, these are two solid Hollywood actors and I am happy to report that they do-not “phone-in” their performances.  It is just that neither is given much to work with in the first place. Instead they hit all the basic points you would expect from a film like this. Howard becomes a motherly figure for Pete. Urban becomes semi-villainous as he wants to catch Elliot to become famous. I say semi-villainous because even this conflict doesn’t feel real as they don’t allow Urban to become a total villain. These two parts could have been played by generic actor A and B and the film would have been mostly the same. All of the human characters other than Pete, and Grace’s soon to be step-daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence), felt like the human characters in a made for TV children’s movie. They are only there to move the plot along and not much more.

Still, Pete’s Dragon is wholesome in nature for families and everyone will enjoy Pete and his giant Bird-Dog dragon.  It’s just a shame that there isn’t any true conflict to make us care about the rest of the film. This lack of depth doesn’t make Pete’s Dragon a bad film. It just makes it an average one.

Note: if possible, avoid watching in 3D. The film is darkly lit in the forest and the 3D makes it worse.

3 Stars out of 5

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