By Darin Skaggs
In the slew of live action remakes by Disney which include the wonderful Cinderella and the underwhelming The Jungle Book comes probably their most random of the remakes, Pete’s Dragon. Unlike the previous remakes and upcoming films, I have not seen the original. So I went into this film with the vaguest of ideas at what was going to happen. What did happen was a fun and charming look at the great importance of family and the unrequited love of a pet.
In the film, a young boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) is involved in a terrible car crash in which he loses his parents in the process. Crying, he runs off to into the woods with just his backpack that holds a book called Elliot Gets Lost. There he is saved from a hungry pack of wolves by a giant, green dragon. Six years pass and Pete and his dragon, whom he has named Elliot, live in the woods. They hide from forest rangers by stealth from Pete and the ability to turn invisible from Elliot. Eventually Pete is found and taken by construction worker Jack (Wes Bentley) and his forest ranger wife Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). They find out his background and the family along with young daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) bond with the young boy. Pete and Elliot try to reunite as they both avoid new found dragon hunter and brother to Jack/co-worker Gavin (Karl Urban).
Like the previous live action version of Disney classics this film looks amazing. The Jungle Book made a CG world with wild animals that looked so incredibly real, that you would believe they were actually there with Mowgli. Here it becomes a little more challenging. The filmmakers have to create a goofy, friendly and green dragon. And they do this perfectly. From the dragon flying, to it sneezing, to it showing extreme frustration, the creation the animators made Elliot feel like he was really there. He is the only big special effect in the film which is true of the original if I’m not mistaken. The acting here is quite wonderful. Bryce Dallas Howard is the perfect mother surrogate here. Robert Redford is brilliant as usual as the grandfather always telling over-the-top tales to scare children. Karl Urban does pretty well with a character that is pretty run-of-the-mill Disney villain. Oakes Fegley is the poor man’s Jacob Trembley in last year’s Room. The whole film is pretty much the plot of Room but instead of Brie Larson and a kidnapper it is a big, green dragon. That is no way an insult to the movie or Fegley’s performance, the tone of film is going for is way more playful than Room was.
The whole film, much like more recent Disney flicks has an environmental theme (not so well) hidden inside it. Jack and Gavin works for a company that is cutting down the trees in the forest to make room for some sort of complex, I’m not sure if it is ever mentioned. That however is really just a background theme to what the movie really wants to get across. The big one is all about the crucial nature of pets. In the beginning it is clear that Pete loves his parents and vice versa. He loses them and then one of the most beautiful scenes in movies this year occurs as a hopeless child is carried away by the dragon as the titles comes up. Pete is lost, he has no one around and no one who understands, except Elliot. Elliot has more dog qualities than dragon, which is a classic Disney trope to have the animal sidekick act like a dog. Here it seems more important than most of those previous choices because the movie needs to get across that pets, dogs being the most popular for house pets, can be an effective form of therapy for a grieving child. The workers find Pete eventually and Grace and Jack takes him in. They all bond along with Natalie and for a moment Pete feels like he is part of a family. He knows he needs these people so he can grow up and learn, but he knows without Elliot he would be nowhere and not have the strength to move on and settle in with his new family. Elliot saved him from becoming wolf chow, but more importantly Pete would probably be too sad to function. Elliot could have been anything; he could have been friends, movies, art or other family members. This film is a dedication to those who got us through the tough times.