Starring Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban
As Disney films go, Pete’s Dragon, the latest in their crusade to turn all animated films into live action, is exactly what you expect from the family friendly studio. It’s got all the touchy feely moments, all the predictable outcomes, cue the positive music at the end, you know it’s time to exit. Disney (and I am including Marvel) is more of a mass produced assembly line movie studio than any of the others. Disney is to the movie industry, what Wal Mart is to consumer goods. Writer/director David Lowery who delivered indie films like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and penned stuff like Pit Stop, sheds that raw cinematic creativity for a more polished, predictable and pacifying movie experience.
Since the age of five, Pete (Fegley) has been living in the northwestern woods with a dragon named Elliott. The solo survivor of a car crash on the way to “an adventure”, Pete has been living in the wild, unnoticed for six years. Grace (Howard) has spent a lifetime exploring the local woods, but one thing she has missed these past six years of her job as a ranger is Pete. At first she doesn’t believe Pete’s stories of living with a green dragon, although they ironically coincide with the tale her father (Redford) has been peddling to children for years. Once the outside world comes to understand Pete’s situation and his friend is finally revealed, an intensive manhunt begins for what might be the world’s last living dragon.
Lowery sheds his raw cinematic creativity for a more polished, predictable and pacifying movie experience.
Lowery admits his version of Pete’s Dragon is more of a re-invention than a reboot. His folksy live action spin on the popular cartoon recreated Elliott the dragon more of an oversized dog with wings. His adapted script certainly keeps the magical story set in reality when possible, focusing more on the human aspects of the journey rather than just the fantasy. Thankfully Howard (Jurassic World) finds the right pair of shoes for this walk in the park. Lowery never tells us the specific location (thought to be Oregon or Washington) despite being filmed in New Zealand. Same with the era, which from the music on the turn table, vintage crayon box logo and age of cars seem to be late 70’s or 80’s. Specifics are not given so the film has a more generic appeal, likely the era will match grownups who heard the story as a child.
“You might be the bravest boy I’ve ever met,” Redford’s character says twice in the course of the film, making sure the crowd gets this story is about bravery. He clearly doesn’t know about Mowgli (Disney’s other movie this year about a boy living in the woods) or Tarzan who we also watched grow up in the woods. 2016 certainly has an obsession with remaking stories about boys braving the wild. All three stories are the same too, tragedy strands a young boy among creatures the audience generally associates with danger, forced to choose between the “normal” human environment and their alternative lifestyle. Pete’s Dragon accomplishes the satisfactory entertainment it aims for, nothing more, never reaching higher than the most-bland version of vanilla.
Generic entertainment that will satisfy Disney followers and fail to stimulate those looking for something more intellectually stimulating.