FlixChatter Review: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

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I always try to keep a neutral expectation going into a film, and it’s a lot easier when I didn’t know much about that particular movie. I had no idea that Pete’s Dragon was a remake of the 1977 movie until days before I saw it, and I didn’t see the original (which is apparently a live-action musical mixed with animated elements). Well, thankfully the constantly-advancing CGI technology enables this live-action version to have a pretty realistic looking dragon.

Now, great CGI alone does not make a movie, but Pete’s Dragon has an engaging story, lovable characters and so much heart. The movie opens with young Pete on a road trip with his parents. I knew somehow things would go wrong and it did. The car crash claimed his parents’ lives, leaving Pete (Oakes Fegley) all alone in the woods… until he found a new friend. I’m surprised how it didn’t take long before we see the creature in the title role, which Pete named Elliot. He’s not a scary, slithery dragon like The Hobbit‘s Smaug nor the ones in Game of Thrones. Elliot is a green fury dragon who can fly and breathe fire, but yet gentle and huggable. In other words, I fell in love with Elliot instantly, the same way I did with Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon.

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Now, the friendship that developed between Pete and Elliot wasn’t shown in the same manner as HTTYD. After that initial meet-up when little Pete climbs into Elliot’s huge paw, we meet them six years later and they’re already BFFs. The scenes of them hanging out in the woods reminds me a lot of Disney’s recent The Jungle Book with Pete as a Mowgli-like character. But of course the story is quite different and none of the animals can talk here, neither does Elliot. Like in Jungle Book, you also can’t overthink about how a child survives in the woods being raised by an animal.

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Elliot’s become kind of a local folklore (kind of like the Lochness monster). Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) is practically the only one who still talks about it, despite being teased by his skeptical daughter, forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). It’s when Grace ends up running into Pete, and taking him back to civilization that the real action begins. Grace bonds immediately with Pete, who shares her wide-eyed wonder of her beloved woods, and so is her step-daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence). For the first time Pete has someone his own age to hang out with. There’s little resistance on his part to live amongst humans, but it’s obvious he misses his fury friend. Elliot too, misses Pete, and the moment he watches Pete hanging out with Grace’s family from the window tugs my heartstrings.

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Pete’s Dragon is set in the 80s, so naturally it conjures up images of Spielberg’s family movies. Interestingly, Spielberg’s latest The BFG left me underwhelmed & quite bored. But what David Lowery did here captured my imagination as well as my heart in equal measure. I cry easily in movies but I’ve never cried so much like I did here. I literally sobbed watching some of the scenes. The story isn’t original and predictable at times, but I was transported into another world and was caught up in the journey of the characters. It’s quite a feat since he hasn’t made a family feature before and his last feature effort was the R-rated crime drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

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Oakes Fegley is wonderful as Pete, and there’s so much believable chemistry between him and the CGI character Elliot. Redford adds gravitas in the role, but also has a memorable scene towards the end that makes up for his rather small screentime. Howard fares so much better here than in the other big Summer movie featuring large creatures Jurassic World. The closest to a film’s antagonist is Karl Urban‘s lumberjack Gavin, who seems rather silly and even childish as he saw Elliot as a threat but then later became very possessive of him. But I like Urban as an actor and he looks really good in his lumberjack outfit (ehm), plus Gavin did redeem himself in the end. It’s Wes Bentley who isn’t given much to do here as Gavin’s brother/Grace’s fiancé.

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The New Zealand scenery is absolutely breathtaking. For a film that utilizes a lot of CGI for the dragon scenes, it looks pretty natural and organic throughout, with seamless mix between the dragon & humans. The music by Daniel Hart helps enhance the emotional factor of the movie, though not quite as memorable as John Powell‘s in HTTYD.

So yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed Pete’s Dragon. As Pete and Elliot take flight through the clouds, my heart literally soars along with it. Easily one of my favorite movies this Summer that I certainly won’t mind watching again and again.

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What do you think of ‘Pete’s Dragon?’

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33 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

    1. It’s wonderful Cindy! Another pleasant surprise from Disney. I think it’s as good as The Jungle Book but I actually like this one a bit more. Oh man, I never cried so much at the theater, ahah.

  1. Found out this is coming, in September =/ Sounds like one to catch! Gotta disagree with ya on the BFG tho, I really enjoyed that one. I’m looking forward to this as I love NZ films, I haven’t seen a bad one.

    If you want to see the best NZ film ever made, catch The Dark Horse. Its bloody incredible.

    1. Aiyah, that’s crazy even though it was filmed in your neighbor land! Plus it’s a Disney flick so it will get a big release. I wish I loved BFG but only the third act was engaging to me.

      1. Yeah who knows how these film releases work. All I know is for the most part we get stuff later than the US. Very occasionally something will open in the UK earlier than the US, and that coincides with an Aussie release. The Lobster and Knight of Cups are a few recent examples, we got those last year!

        1. Yeah I remember bring jealous of you that you saw The Lobster so early! In the US, only big cities get the indie releases fairly early, but not in Minnesota where I live 😕

            1. I think Green Room and Miles Ahead, as well as Neon Demon are indie films, at least that’s what I thought. Btw I still haven’t seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople which looks like a riot. Only a small theater showed that here n it’s a bit far from my house.

              1. Oh you will love Wilderpeople Ruth. It is as funny as WWDITS, but a totally different brand of humour.

                Its so funny that here in Australia they use Sam O’Niell and the young NZ kid from the movie in the previews. Its hilarious, you see them sitting in the bush/forest, in silence, and a phone starts ringing. Sam and the kid look around, then they look at the camera/audience, and O’Niell says something like “TURN YA BLOODY PHONE OFF!”

                Oh goddamn its so funny Ruth, I’m laughing just thinking about it. Keen to hear what you think of it!

                PS – Just finished my review of The Dark Valley, finally!! Will be up in a few minutes 😀

                1. Oh I was laughing so hard watching the trailer I played it again! I love that style of humor n that kid looks hilarious. He reminds me of Rebel Wilson who’s Australian I believe. That Taika is sooo talented!

                  Wahoo!! I will definitely read it as soon as you post it! I hope you have nice things to say about my Sam 😉

                  1. Yeah it is bloody funny. I can’t wait to watch it again.

                    Just posted my review 😀

                    Sam Riley was excellent, so different from his role in Control! He looks much… thicker. Not in a bad way, I guess he was pretty young for Control

    1. I saw the trailer and it looks so cheesy! I like this one, perhaps a tad overly sentimental but it won me over anyway. Hard not to fall for that dragon Elliot!

  2. Good to hear this one delivers. Honestly none of the trailers grabbed me at all. I was interested in the cast though. Now hearing this I feel a lot better about it.

    1. Yes it’s such a pleasant surprise Keith! I hadn’t seen any of the trailers until days before so I didn’t have much expectations. But the movie is such a fun as well as emotionally-gratifying piece, I cried sooo much watching it. Take your whole family, I think they’d enjoy it!

        1. There were a bunch of kids at the press screening and they seem to be very engaged w/ the movie. I think both kids and adults will enjoy this. Did you see The Jungle Book? It’s as good as that one, but I give this one a slight edge as it’s much more emotional.

  3. I watched the trailer and didn’t know that Karl Urban is in this until reading your review haha. Yeah the trailer didn’t leave me with a “I have to see this” impression but all the positive word of mouth puts it’ on my list of things to see. I’m still doing a lot of catch up. 🙂

    1. Hi Eddie! Karl Urban actually talked about it when he was here at Wizard World a year ago, so that’s how I knew he’s in this. I think this is the case where the movie is better than the trailer. I’d say give it a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised!

  4. YAY!!! I’m so excited for this one!!! The reviews have been great and since my kids drag me to every movie that strikes their fancy, it’s nice to have one that also strikes mine!!!

    1. Hello Drew! I was won over by this right from the start. The relationship between the boy and the dragon is so touching, reminds me of How To Train Your Dragon which I absolutely adore. Yes, this is one of those Disney movies that should please both kids and adults! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  5. The original is a bit hokey but still a lot of fun. The fact that this reminded you of How to Train You Dragon does make me want to at least check it out.

    1. Hi Vern! I absolutely adore How To Train Your Dragon, so yeah the fact that this reminds me of that film is a pleasant surprise indeed! I found it to be even more emotional, it’s quite a tearjerker.

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