Pete’s Dragon first surfaced as a musical live-action animated feature in 1977 about a nine-year-old orphan and his magical dragon whom nobody could see. Now, almost four decades later, Disney has given the story a complete reboot, with a cute boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) and a delightfully warm digitally animated dragon who turns in a heart-warming performance.
David Lowery’s version of Pete’s Dragon is aimed at a new generation. Young viewers will be able to relate to the boy’s adventure and adults will buy into this engaging story. It starts with young Pete paging through a picture book in the back seat of a family station wagon. In the next instance, a deer bolts from the bush and forces the car off the road. Pete’s parents are killed, signalling the darkest opening of a Disney film since Bambi.
A frightened Pete is chased by wolves deeper into the forest when suddenly a magical thing happens; a giant green, doglike creature materialises whom Pete calls Elliot. We move ahead six years. Pete has survived the ordeal becoming a wild boy of the forest.
The first human Pete sees is Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a kindly forest ranger who is tracking endangered species in order to protect their habitat from a lumber company operated by her fiancé (Wes Bentley). In an engaging moment of mutual curiosity between Pete and Grace’s soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Natalie (Oona Laurence), the 10-year-old reveals himself, only to be brought into town and treated like a circus attraction.
The relationship between Pete and Elliot is endearingly rendered and it’s obvious that the filmmakers have studied what endears humans to their pets and amplified those qualities into the realm of fantasy. But by Jove it works! The film takes a sinister turn when an ambitious logger sees an opportunity to capture Elliot, believing him to be the ultimate hunting trophy.
All in all, this film ticks all the right boxes with good all round performances and a solid story-line. And the dragon itself is a wonderfully “real” creation.