Pete’s Dragon: Breathing Fire Into A Classic

Written By Tommy Tracy

Pete's Dragon Poster

Pete’s Dragon Plot Summary:

Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford), a woodcarver has been telling tales of a dragon that lives deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest for years. His daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) writes these off as tall tales, until she meets Pete (Oakes Fegley), a 10-year-old orphan who says he lives in the woods with a giant, friendly dragon.

Remakes and reboots are at an all-time high. We’re seeing remakes of forgotten films, aging classics and even three different incarnations of Spider-Man within the past fourteen years. Some remakes are good, others are bad, but very rarely do we get a remake that surpasses its predecessor. I am happy to report that 2016’s iteration of Pete’s Dragon is not only great, but it puts the source material to shame.

Dragon pic 1

In 1977, the Walt Disney Company released Pete’s Dragon, a live action musical mixed with animation to very little fanfare. It found an audience on home video and became a staple in many kid’s lives, mine included. However, that film does not hold up incredibly well, containing very lame songs with a lot of cheesy dialogue and storytelling. What worked so well in that original film, however, was the loving relationship between a little orphan named Pete, and his big green dragon, Elliot.

That dynamic is the only remaining shred from the original film. This new Pete’s Dragon is better for it. We follow Pete (Oakes Fegley), orphaned after a car crash, who comes into contact with a mythical dragon in the forest, Elliot. Six years later, their forest is in danger of being bulldozed by townie brothers, Gavin (the criminally underrated Karl Urban) and Jack (Wes Bentley). Jack’s fiancée, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), is fighting to maintain the forest that she grew up loving with her “crazy father,” played by Robert Redford. During one of these trips to the forest, Grace and her stepdaughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence), discover Pete, whilst Gavin and his crew discover Elliot. An absolutely epic journey takes place, filled with love, compassion, magic, fear and wonderment, all revolving around this little boy and his dragon.

Pete and Elliot are where this film truly succeeds. The friendship between this boy and dragon is seen from their very first frame together; they love each other like a boy loves his dog. Elliot, who is none too fond of humans, protects Pete as though he is his little brother. Fegley plays Pete with a sincerity most child actors would not be able to pull off. Much like Neel Sethi in this year’s Jungle Book, acting against a CGI creature comes naturally to Fegley. You can see real fear and love on his face. The rest of the cast is just as fantastic, especially Laurence’s Natalie, who again is a future star in the making. The only wasted actor is perhaps Bentley, who doesn’t really do much with the little material he is given.

Dragon pic 2

Most importantly, screenwriters David Lowrey and Toby Halbrooks make the film just as dangerous as it is fun. You fear for what happens to both Pete and Elliot once they’re separated. Will they reunite? Does Elliot believe Pete is better without him? Will Gavin and his men truly hunt the dragon down and kill him? Each scene makes its viewer that much more anxious to reach the climax to make sure everything is okay. That requires top-notch storytelling and directing.

My main issue revolves around Gavin. He’s very stereotypical, jumping to unwarranted conclusions before any answers are even known. It’s a cliché in film that we’ve seen a million times, even when people are trying to tell him otherwise. Gavin isn’t a bad guy, but a determined man who wants to get his way. He also gets more screen time than Bentley, who is deemed a more important character through exposition.

I enjoyed the original Pete’s Dragon as a kid, but it does not hold up today. It is, in fact, a very weak film held up by nostalgia and childhood love. The new Pete’s Dragon is incredible, and will be a favorite among millions of children for years to come. It is a beautiful film, acted wonderfully with an emotion I haven’t felt inside of me since the last time I watched E.T.

Final Grade: 9/10