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?’