“Deep in the forest, there dragons will be!” And according to this film, those dragons will be furry and behave very much like a dog. Fans of Disney’s original Pete’s Dragon may not be overly happy with this furry CGI upgrade, but everyone else should rejoice. Disney’s hi-tech reboot roars and soars in all the right places, and best of all, it’s not even a musical anymore!
While the original’s song Candle on the Water was Oscar nominated back in 1977, this new version ditches the songs, most of the story, and even the cartoon dragon himself. Instead we get little Pete (Oakes Fegley) orphaned in a car crash in the first five minutes and meeting his furry dragon protector Elliot deep in the forest moments after. Cut to six years later and Pete and his puppy-like best friend spend all their time alone, unwashed and unbothered in the woods, living like wild animals until they are discovered simultaneously by forest ranger Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard) as well as the men whose job it is to turn all the trees to timber.
Shot in stunning New Zealand and with an overt, but not overdone, eco-message, Pete’s Dragon feels like a hugely worthwhile update of the original. Not only is Elliot now created from decent, if not mind-blowing CGI, but the struggle between ‘progress’ and the wilderness feels timely, especially when backed up by a healthy criticism of the mentality of trophy hunting.
Pete’s Dragon is stuffed full of heart, wild emotion and an overflowing love of nature. From Robert Redford’s teller of (what people assume to be tall) tales, to Bryce Dallas Howard’s ranger, to Pete and Elliot’s joyful playing in their forest home, the film is packed on one side by those with an affinity with the great outdoors. On the other side, you have Karl Urban and his gang of timber men whose disregard for nature and their fear of the unknown causes Pete and his dragon plenty of problems as the predictable story plays out.
This all makes it sound like a message movie, which Pete’s Dragon certainly isn’t. It's a simple adventure of a boy and his dog/dragon with shades of both this year’s The Jungle Book and more surprisingly Room. Oakes Fegley’s resemblance to Room’s Jacob Tremblay helps, but it’s also in the scenes where Pete is forced from his forest home and into a civilisation he knows very little about, wanting nothing more than to return to the home he loves with the only companion he trusts.
Fegley is fantastic in the role and his relationships with both the adorable Elliot and mother figure Grace are the heart of the film. Along with Howard Shore’s suitably emotive score, Pete’s Dragon hits all the right notes to tug at the heartstrings. There's nothing particularly original about it, but if the likes of E.T. or Marley and Me get to you, Pete’s Dragon is likely to have as many kids comforting their weepy parents as vice versa.
PETE’S DRAGON / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: DAVID LOWERY / SCREENPLAY: DAVID LOWERY, TOBY HALBROOKS / STARRING: OAKES FEGLEY, OONA LAURENCE, BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD, KARL URBAN, ROBERT REDFORD, WES BENTLEY, JOHN KASSIR / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 12TH
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10