Disney, Reviews

[REVIEW] ‘Pete’s Dragon’

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Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of the recent remake trend that Disney has adopted. If I had my druthers I would put a stop to the practice and instead make original films. However, if they are going to remake them I hope they are well done and aside from Alice through the Looking Glass they have been hitting them out of the park in the last 2 years. Now this weekend, we get a remake of the 1977 film Pete’s Dragon. How would it measure up to the recent releases and to the original film? Well, I’m delighted to tell you it is a magical film and one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2016.

It’s really not fair to compare this film to the original because aside from the names of Pete and Elliott it is completely different. A better comparison is films like E.T., Black Stallion, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows and Sounder. These are all movies about children and the animals/aliens they love and Pete’s Dragon continues in that tradition. Just like those films it can be quite emotional at times without forgetting moments of joy and real heart.

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My friend told me to bring tissues to Pete’s Dragon and she was right. The story is very simple and one could complain it is predictable but it is executed so well. All the performances are completely lovely. Bryce Dallas Howard is warm and maternal as the park ranger that Pete meets. It’s the best I’ve seen her in a movie. Robert Redford is great as her father who believes in the dragons.

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And the two child actors, Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence, are outstanding. I think both are better than the actor who played Mowgli in Jungle Book this year (who was also very good).

pete's dragon7Karl Urban is the villain who is afraid and wants to capture Elliott. He’s predictable, but I didn’t mind that- again because it is executed so well. I mean if I saw a dragon I might be kind of scared and irrational as well so it makes sense!

pete's dragon2So let’s talk about the dragon, Elliott. It’s hard to believe this movie only cost $65 million because he looks so real. Some people don’t like the fur on Elliott but to me it worked. It made him feel more tactile and present. They also did the invisibility in very clever ways. Elliott is kind of a big dog in the film but you really felt for him and the bond between him and Pete was very moving.

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Speaking of that $65 million budget, I am so impressed with what David Lowery did with this film. To me, it is exciting to see Disney looking to an indy director who has passion for the project. With such low budgets they can afford to take chances and make less consumer, focus-driven films. I would love to see Disney continue this approach for future live action properties making them more artistically significant rather than lazy cash grabs. I am thrilled Lowery is signed on to do Peter Pan and  have full confidence in him after this movie.

I loved Pete’s Dragon. Sure it doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it really moved me. It reminded me of being a little girl and getting swept up in a live action Disney film. It has a beautiful message of faith, family and hope. The cinematography is gorgeous. The music is perfect. I loved the performances, heart and story. I am sure more people will go see Suicide Squad this weekend, but if I had my way they’d all go see Pete’s Dragon instead. It is a carefully made, lovingly told family film that is true Disney magic.

★★★★★

Are any of you going to see Pete’s Dragon? What did you think? I would love to discuss it in the comments section

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog rachelsreviews.net