Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (screenplay), Malcolm Marmorstein (novel)
Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban
Release date: September 15th, 2016
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 102 minutes
Best part: The dragon.
Worst part: Urban’s kooky antagonist.
Disney is a cash cow, able to take serious risks without losing large sums. The company – cashing up on Marvel, Star Wars etc. – is handing remakes of 20th century animated gems to interesting, independent-minded filmmakers. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh dived into The Jungle Book and Cinderella before. Pete’s Dragon is the heavyweight studio’s latest satisfactory experiment.
Pete’s Dragon is based on one of Disney’s most eclectic animated works. The original is a miasmic tale of a boy and his pet. It delves into strange places – leaving some viewers scratching their heads. This version is more straightforward but less interesting. It begins with Pete finding Elliot the Dragon by chance. The story jumps years ahead, and Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a child running, jumping and living alongside his magical friend. One day, Pete stumbles upon park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the forest. After finding him and taking him in, Grace – along with her partner Jack (Wes Bentley), Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Lauence) and Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) – learn more about Pete’s story and way of life. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) has dastardly ideas for Elliot.
Like J. J. Abrams-helmed Super 8, Pete’s Dragon showcases Steven Spielberg’s long-lasting legacy and overall influence. This nostalgic fantasy-family epic lives and dies on director/co-writer David Lowery(Aint Them Bodies Saints)’s love of the classics. The opening scene encapsulates his style and storytelling prowess. This three-minute sequence is worth the admission cost. It glides through multiple emotions, a tragic event, our lead’s isolation and discovery of the big, green father figure. Indeed, the epilogue depicts love and loss effortlessly. Afterwards, the movie is fairly mundane. Lowery borrows every Spielberg convention (Spielberg face, country town charm, kids connecting with creatures and magic etc.) without quit. As other central characters come into play, the movie’s story and pace slow drastically.
The characters, of course, change from simple-minded to wide-eyed and adventurous as craziness occurs. However, none of them matter. Howard continues her run of underwritten characters flip-flopping between courageous and outrageous. Even her red hair and gorgeous looks cannot save her. Bentley is given less development as the concerned nice-guy. Redford’s charm pushes him through silly dialogue. Urban is given one of 2016’s most baffling characters; woefully switching between gruff redneck, hunting champion and slightly mentally challenged. Lowery spoon feeds his love of middle America. The twangy soundtrack and gleaming cinematography clumsily convey regional bliss.
Pete’s Dragon resembles every other 2016 blockbuster – easy on the eyes but hard to connect with. This year, this Spielberg admirer performed better than Spielberg himself. The cast perform admirably despite two dimensional, wacky material. The dragon himself is the runaway winner.