IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 104 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1977, five-year-old Pete is on a road trip until a car crash kills his parents. Pete survives and is saved from a pack of wolves by a dragon who Pete names Elliott after a character in his favourite book. The two become the best of friends and live together in the forest for six years until a group of lumberjacks and park rangers roam close to where they live, along with a girl named Natalie. Natalie and her father Jack take Pete back to their nearby home town of Millhaven, but Elliott sets off to look for his friend, and there’s the small matter of Jack’s brother, unscrupulous hunter Gavin….
The 1977 live action and animation combo musical Pete’s Dragon has a great deal of charm, humour and I like it a lot, but this remake beats it hands down. It’s almost a perfect example of how to do a remake – pick an original film which has qualities but which could certainly be improved on, and keep the core concept but approach the material very differently. The result is the kind of genuinely uplifting, heart warming experience that we haven’t had much of this year amongst the glut of the big ‘commercial’ movies, especially during a downright shoddy summer where soulless crap of the likes of Ghostbusters and Suicide Squad seems to have ruled. To be honest, I knew Pete’s Dragon was going to be quite something after its superb opening sequence which smoothly moves from joy to disaster to sadness to fear to joy again in the space of a few minutes. We see Pete riding in the car with his parents until a sudden crash [shown extremely cleverly so you see very little but get the impact] leads to him fleeing into the forest pursued by wolves, where Elliott suddenly appears and scares them off….only to then pick up the no-longer-scared Pete and carry him off in a moment which has some real elation to it. What follows may not be very original – it’s basically a variation on a ‘boy and his dog’ story [Elliott is even given dog-like mannerisms] which goes into Free Willy, The Iron Giant or even King Kong waters – but it has immense heart without getting slushy, and if you’re the type like me who can get very emotional during films, then the tears may fall towards the end, though a happy coda seems a bit tacked on and makes little sense.
Not all the CGI effects come off very well, but Elliott is as lovable a creation as you get – kids may fall in love with him but damn it so did I – and the movie nicely makes us see parts of the story from his side too, perhaps the best of these moments being when Elliott looks in through the window of the house where Pete is now residing. Seeing how at home Pete seems to be amongst his own kind and, in just a few seconds and without even showing the dragon crying, we are made to feel such sadness for a creature who has lost seemingly his only friend. While the characters tend to be fairly stock, Robert Redford has some of his best moments in years as he talks with a twinkle in his idea about believing in magic, while young Oakes Fegley gives an amazingly intelligent and subtle performance. Daniel Hart’s [now he’s a name to listen out for] score is allowed to soar and even dominate in places in the old fashioned manner. The whole movie is of an old fashioned sort in the best possible way, and of a kind that seem to be made in today’s cold, cynical time less and less. But Disney, please, I know you like remaking everything, and the results are sometimes rather good, but don’t remake Bedknobs And Broomsticks. I’ll never forgive you.