Score: 4.5 out of 5
What made the original ‘Pete’s Dragon’ charming was not just because it was a musical featuring a cartoon dragon in a live-action setting with real actors, but because of the relationship between an optimistic boy named Pete and his dragon friend named Elliot that made it worth watching. I was one of those kids who grew up watching the original Disney classic from 1977 on Videocassette to the point where I’ve considered it to be one of my favorite movies, so I was looking forward to this remake directed by David Lowery; I was also a little skeptical of it, because of how it was marketed as a thrilling fantasy-adventure and abandoned the musical element that made me enjoy the original so much. After seeing it however, I felt a sense of calm and realized that the decision to remake ‘Pete’s Dragon’ was much needed.
I have to give a forewarning for those who loved the original film as much as I did: Do not expect the story to be the same as the film you grew up with; for not only might you be disappointed, (which, to be honest, I wasn’t.) but it is a much different movie than the one you grew up loving. This remake completely abandons all story elements and most characters to show us a completely new story which makes it feel like a fable come to life. (And judging from the way it was shot, a Disney fantasy released in 2007 as well.). Instead of an abused runaway, Pete (Oakes Fegley) is now an orphan who discovers the playful, yet gentle Elliot (Vocals by The Crypt-keeper himself, John Kassir) while lost in the woods and ends up living with him for six years.
Instead of the late Mickey Rooney and the vocally-talented Helen Reddy playing father-and-daughter, we get Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard. Redford plays an old woodcarver named Meacham who likes to tell children stories of how he saw a dragon in his younger years, making him nothing short of a cliche that just stands there and smiles at every bit of amazement in his age; while Dallas Howard plays an environmentalist named Grace who ends up finding Pete in the forest she happens to be protecting from a lumber mill company. While ‘Pete’s Dragon’ may start to sound like a preachy movie about protecting the environment, I can assure you that this is nothing but just a touching story about the friendship between a feral boy and his dragon friend.
There seems to be a villain however; a lumberjack named Gavin (Karl Urban), who is the brother of Grace’s boyfriend, Jack (Wes Bentley). While you don’t see him cutting down much trees, his villainous motivation is to hunt down Elliot with his group after discovering the dragon for the first time. (I told you that this was different.) Now Disney has an official remake. I can’t believe that ‘Pete’s Dragon’ was actually good. The key is: If you accept that this film is new and ignore the original film, you might just be more welcome to this movie.
There are some elements that don’t add up and moments that might be laughable (Ex: Urban’s overdone performance as Gavin), but what makes ‘Pete’s Dragon’ work as a movie is not only how emotional the chemistry is between Pete and Elliot, but how amazing the visual effects are on the dog-like dragon. From the texture of his fur, to the way that he turns invisible; (which is a major element Disney kept in this movie) even the way the actors react to the presence of Elliot is a major factor. Does the CG always work? Not when it comes to the various woodland creatures that Pete and the dragon come across, but on Elliot, it works to a surprisingly amazing advantage. With the CG, I felt all the emotions I needed to feel, and even started to care more for this dragon than the one from the original classic. I still have love and nostalgia for the 1977 ‘Pete’s Dragon’, but this is one of those remakes that actually works and was meant to be made at this time. It’s acceptable to say that no other studio can remake their own movies better than Disney.