Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: August 12th, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: David Lowery Actors: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Robert Redford, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Steve Barr

 


 

A

fter a sudden accident separates young Pete (Oakes Fegley) from his parents, the boy is stranded alone in the woods – but only momentarily, as he soon encounters a giant, friendly green dragon, whom he names Elliot. Years pass without incident, until loggers begin encroaching further into the forest, threatening Pete and Elliot’s simple, isolated lifestyle. When lumberjack manager Jack (Wes Bentley), his daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence), and his girlfriend Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) discover Pete near a harvesting site, they take him back to their house for the night and promise to help Pete look for Elliot in the morning. But while the well-intentioned family attempts to reunite the boy with his magical companion, fearful townspeople – led by Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) – hunt the creature for their own avaricious purposes.

It begins with a somewhat terrifying opening scene, which demonstrates both the best and the worst aspects of this redux of a much-loved ‘70s venture. A lost, scared, tiny child is rescued by a benevolent creature, as gentle as it is enormous. But getting the boy to that point is an aggravatingly overused gimmick of camera viewpoints and predictable tragedies that works to nullify the poignancy of a mighty guardian and a helpless orphan. This mixed approach to storytelling tactics resurfaces frequently later on, as adults become villains, humans immediately confront unknowns with fear and hatred, and an anti-deforestation message is infused into the already tiresome family-friendly morals.

It may not be difficult to best the success of the 1977 picture, but this 2016 re-imagining certainly attempts to fall into the same traps. This version is equally overlong, slow, and inundated with music; no less than three car-ride sequences showcase songs presiding over wide eyes staring out windows. It’s as if the filmmakers couldn’t come up with any other way to segue from one location to the next. And though the computer-animated Elliot is crisper, sharper, and far furrier (the whole dragon is covered in bristling hair to replace the purplish mop perched on the traditionally-drawn predecessor), he’s also not as cute or endearing. And his actions and behaviors are virtually equivalent to a standard dog.

Perhaps this film’s genericness is its biggest detractor. Every human character acts and reacts exactly as they’ve done before in everything from “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” to “King Kong.” The government wants to control the situation; hunters want the fame for catching a monster; and children just want to return the beast to its home and freedoms. The plot also borrows from “Tarzan” and “The Jungle Book” (particularly with the addition of a love interest – or a romantic curiosity for the boy), while following the exhausting, commonplace paths for conflict, the stopping of villains, and the exhibition of Elliot’s propriety in helping even those who would hurt him.

In all of this ordinariness, a few repeated lines hold significance, a couple of decent laughs find their way into the script, and many of Pete and Elliot’s interactions prove genuinely emotional. But with the updates in special effects, environments, and the general sincerity of acting, it’s more difficult than before to accept the existence of a chameleonic dragon and his tranquil touch (and his extreme intelligence and understanding of English). This, of course, also makes it more inconvenient to merely dismiss Pete’s increasing proficiency with the language, despite his not communicating with anyone else for such an extended period of time. It’s all meant to appeal to the very young, but it’s the kind of subject matter – and production – that could inspire a decent theme park ride more than one’s imagination or sense of wonderment.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10