I wonder if there won’t be just a handful of companies soon, all spewing out their films, TV shows and franchises, that mean we have very little choice. With the behemoth that is now Disney owning, or being home to, things like Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars they have quite a back catalogue from which to plunder, as we enter the world of Pete’s Dragon we should keep this in mind.
Pete’s Dragon tells the story of a young boy, Pete played by Oakes Fegley (Person of Interest, Prism), who loses his parents in an accident in the opening scene. Being just four years old and out in the middle of a forest he hears strange noises and makes a run for it. He ends up deeper in the forest surround by wolves who are suddenly scared off by a giant green dragon. Worry not though as this is a friendly dragon, at least, it is friendly to Pete.
Fast forward a number of years and Pete and the Dragon, now named Elliot, have been getting on just fine thank you. The dragon appears to have evaded being seen as it can turn invisible, like Predator invisible. Their lives are fine until one day Pete sees Grace, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, The Help) doing her park ranger duties. He follows her to a patch where a group of loggers are cutting down the forest, or parts of it at least. Inevitably this puts them on a collision course with Pete and Elliot and the two come crashing into the towns lives.
Elliot is captured by Gavin, played by Karl Urban (Star Trek, Dredd) who is the brother of Grace’s husband Jack, played by Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games, Interstellar). The brothers are the loggers in the forest, Gavin wants the dragon for, well money, Jack wants to have a happy life and he and Grace sort of adopt Pete. Anyway, things play out, what will happen, tears etc and then it ends, in typical Disney fashion.
The film is obviously an updated version of the 1977 film Pete’s Dragon which starred the likes of Mickey Rooney, Jim Dale, Shelley Winters etc. Also a Disney film, this one had an animated, bright green, looks hand drawn, dragon alongside the live action cast. This film was very 70’s Disney, lots of laughs and very cutesy animation.
This recent version was written and directed by David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, St Nick). The directing is accomplished, particularly the opening scene. However, as with a lot of ‘updates’ and ‘remakes’ you are left wondering what the point of this was. Sure it is quite a different film from the 1977 version. There are nowhere near as many laughs, it’s not as cutesy, you could almost describe this as a darker version.
The dragon has been updated to be CGI and reminded me of the large dog from The NeverEnding Story. Actually the dragon in this modern version has a lot of dog traits. The story is slightly different, in the 1977 version Pete is running from his abusive adoptive parents, in this version Pete is orphaned and left to fend for himself. I guess times have changed so the movie must too, but this new version borrows too many traits of other Disney films to be thought of in the same way as some of their classics.
Whilst the film itself isn’t bad, the children in the cinema seemed to have a hard time following it or staying engaged. It’s not good enough and doesn’t have the qualities of a Pixar film, for example, who keep both children and adults entertained. This leaves it in an odd realm where you aren’t quite sure who it’s aimed at or why. Personally, I’d by the original and put your kids in front of that. They, and you, will be all the better for it.