11:00 am EDT, August 13, 2016

‘Pete’s Dragon’ movie review: Deep in the forest, there dragons will be

For those that grew up with the charming memories of Pete and his dragon friend, Elliot, it may have been hard to accept the idea of this remake. Rest assured, this movie is chock full of all the same magic.

Pete’s Dragon was on regular rotation in my house as a child, along with Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mary Poppins and a slew of other Disney animated classics. So when I heard they were remaking Pete’s Dragon I was more than a little worried. How could they possibly capture the wonder and magic of animated Elliot while also making him more realistic? Well, I’m here to tell you I walked out of the theater more than pleasantly surprised.

Pete’s story may have changed a bit for this remake, but all the friendship and fun is there in spades. I will happily show this movie to my niece, just as soon as I make her watch the original first. Keep reading for all the strengths and weaknesses of this new imagining of a true Disney classic.

Strengths

Same idea, great new story

There were more than a few changes made to the story itself, and all of them make this Pete’s Dragon a very different story. The central idea behind both the classic movie and this reimagining is there, but some critical upgrades to the story make this remake a worthy addition to the Disney catalog. It holds on to all the heart and soul of the original, but moves the story into a more modern context. I was thoroughly and completely charmed by Elliot, Pete, and all the characters that inhabit their world.

Robert Redford

petes-dragon-humans edit

Robert Redford’s wise old Meachum is one of the highlights of this story. He is the one that has kept the legend of the Millhaven dragon alive for years, and is the one his daughter Grace goes to when Pete needs a fellow believer. One of the most magical moments in the entire film is watching Meachum, Grace, and Natalie lay eyes on Elliot for the first time, and you see the wonder on the old man’s face. Redford was the perfect choice to play the family patriarch, and we are so grateful for everything he gave to this role.

A History of Dragons

One of the most noteworthy additions to this story is the legend of the dragons. Throughout the movie, we hear tales of dragons that can be found deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The little ditty is not only catchy, but holds enough charm to make it seem like the kind of tune you’d learn at summer camp and think was just for fun. Adding all that history to Elliot’s story is a remarkably effective way to make the movie feel like a tale as old as time, rather than just a fun story of a boy and his dragon.

petes-dragon-movie-disney-2016 edit

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Weaknesses

Lack of a true villain

I had very few complaints while watching Pete’s Dragon. The only one of note being that the movie lacks a compelling villain. While we’re meant to be angry with Karl Urban’s Gavin, you never quite blame him for his reactions. If anyone found a live dragon living in the woods these days, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine they’d try to catch it and claim ownership of it. He isn’t trying to kill Elliot, he isn’t even truly trying to harm him, and the worst thing he does is chase down a speeding semi-truck to try and recover his prize.

It’s far too easy to find the villains in the classic Pete’s Dragon, so maybe making the choice to keep all the characters’ motivations neutral was a smart one, but it also does weaken a movie a little. On a positive note, the lack of true evil in the story makes it appropriate for just about any audience out there.

Ultimately

It’s understandable for those who grew up loving the classic story to be unsure of what to make of a re-imagining, but this is one that absolutely knocks it out of the park. The story is compelling and believable, the characters are endearing and real, and Elliot is every bit the charming, lovable creature you want him to be.

If you are looking for one last adventure to take your kids on before school starts for the year, I highly recommend you introduce them to a boy named Pete and his friend Elliot. The story is sure to be one that they will remember and can someday share with their children. The look and circumstances may change, but the message behind Elliot and Pete’s tale has survived generations and will undoubtedly continue to survive for a long time to come.

Grade:A

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