Film Review: Pete’s Dragon

I went to see this with MWF and a friend today, and MWF was super excited as she loves the original movie and it has a special place in her heart as her nana loved it too. Personally, I have no real connection to the original having seen it as a kid but not really taking it to heart. 

The film’s plot follows Pete (Oakes Fegley) a young boy who is left stranded in a dense wood after a car crash kills his parents. Wandering alone in the woods he is found and taken in by a gentle dragon who he names Elliot after a character in his picture book.

In the nearby town of Millhaven there is a local legend of dragons and Meacham (Robert Redford) entertains local children with his own tale of seeing the beast several years earlier. His daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a forest ranger dismisses these as tall tales although her father suggests that just because she hasn’t seen something doesn’t mean it’s not real.

After six years living with Elliot, Pete sees Grace walking in the woods, the first human he has seen since the accident. Grace’s boyfriend Gary (Wes Bentley) is the head of the local lumber company which is working closer to Pete and Elliot’s home.

While visiting him Gary’s daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) spots Pete and sneaks off after him. While they play Natalie hurts her knee and on finding her Grace sees Pete who attempts to flee but is knocked out. Grace takes him to hospital.

Elliot awakes and searches for Pete but is seen by Gavin (Karl Urban) who is Gary’s brother and who sets out to trap him. Pete meanwhile begins to feel at home with Grace and Gary, and tells Grace about Elliot. She takes Pete into the woods accompanied by Natalie and her father and they meet Elliot.

Grace (Howard), Meacham (Redford) and Natalie (Laurence) awed by Elliot

Gavin and his men pounce and trap Elliot, drugging and roping him despite Meacham and Grace trying to say the dragon poses no threat and Pete attacking Gavin.
Can they free Elliot? Will Pete and Elliot be able to return to their life in the woods, or does a home with Grace and her family beckon? And where is Elliot’s family?

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, which moves along at a decent pace and is well done throughout. The story is simple but it’s carried off in a charming and warm-hearted manner which MWF described as “fuzzy”. It’s sweet without being sickening and gripping without being distressing for younger viewers, although the scenes of Elliot’s capture might upset some (including MWF).

There are a few factors that play into this chief amongst them being a simple style, a solid cast and the character of Elliot who is designed brilliantly. The filmmakers have chosen to make him furry as opposed to traditionally scaly and his mannerisms are like those of a dog, making him incredibly cuddly and likeable.

Elliot meets Pete

They also fill the film with little moments like him trying to carry a tree through the woods which are rather amusing and sweet.

The cast is solid with Howard and Bentley doing well as the couple who take Pete in, although Bentley’s part is incredibly under written. Redford, who delivers an opening and closing narration, brings his easy charm to the grandfather role and captures a sense of wonder and happiness which is the film’s overall tone.

As the primary antagonist the ever reliable Karl Urban does a good job, making his character human and hinting at a slightly bitter streak towards his brother. It’s nice for a kids’ movie to give their villain a bit if grey and humanity and to give them a chance for redemption later in the story.

Gavin (Urban) hears something in the woods

But the real praise should go to the two young stars Fegley and Laurence. Having children as main characters can be risky as child actors can often be quite weak on screen but here both give good performances. Fegley in particular impresses as he has several mannerisms that feel natural for a child who has lived by himself for so long. 

All in all this is a well made and fun family movie which warms the heart.

Verdict: Good performances, a simple plot and a well realised CG character mean that this is a charming kids’ film and works for adults too. A warm, pleasant treat. 8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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