A tolerable but predictably standard family film wrapped in a big, green, furry, flying blanket.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
A remake of the surprisingly charming 1977 original, Pete’s Dragon centres on the titular young boy, Pete (Oakes Fegley) after his family tragically dies. He is “adopted” by a friendly dragon, later dubbed Elliot, and they form an inseparable bond…before getting separated.
Pete’s integration into human society is essentially the main plot. Even considering his perfect teeth and ability to speak English, despite his only companion being a dragon that can’t talk, it’s all handled very realistically.
After getting captured by concerned adults, Pete jabs curiously at sandwiches, sleeps on the floor and even attempts to run back to woods at least twice. A simple scene of him howling in sorrow while being surrounded by curious citizens sums up Pete as being nothing but a scared child. Fegley brilliantly displays terror and bewildered naivety, at least when compared to the other actors (Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford) who seem to spend most of their time staring off into the distance like a butterfly just flew behind the camera.
The basic cinematography and acting are joined by a cookie cutter story that hits every mawkish mark possible, including dead parents, a misunderstood animal, a caring parental figure and a tree chopping antagonist with dollar signs in his eyes. They all do their jobs as narrative elements, but still raise the question as to why this movie was even made at all when I could Photoshop green fur on the robot from The Iron Giant and get the same experience.
The dragon itself is appropriately cute, if only because it acts, and looks, more like a puppy than a majestic reptile. The animation is decent and Elliot’s capture and eventual outburst are respectively heartbreaking and fiery – literally – but the audience’s reaction isn’t anything that can’t be matched by watching someone mistreat a defenceless animal.
Pete’s Dragon is a clichéd but suitably wholesome family flick. Even with a sappy ending that screams “Please don’t be sad, kids!” it ticks all the necessary boxes for a mildly satisfactory film for parents and children. It’s always great to see dragons on the big screen since they are often used as mascots for political and social trends, whether it’s Smaug’s hoarding coinciding with the great depression, Puff’s carefree life happening during the 60’s or Draco from Dragonheart signalling Sean Connery’s collapsing career. Now that there’s the dopey Elliot in Pete’s Dragon, it’s hard not to feel a little insulted.
Pete’s Dragon is available in Australian cinemas from September 15
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures