Director: David Lowery
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: PG (Some Intense Sequences)
Released By: Walt Disney Studios Singapore
Opening Day: 1 September 2016
Synopsis: For years, old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) has delighted local children with his tales of the fierce dragon that resides deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. To his daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who works as a forest ranger, these stories are little more than tall tales...until she meets Pete (Oakes Fegley). Pete is a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home who claims to live in the woods with a giant, green dragon named Elliott. And from Pete’s descriptions, Elliott seems remarkably similar to the dragon from Mr. Meacham’s stories. With the help of Natalie (Oona Laurence), an 11-year-old girl whose father Jack (Wes Bentley) owns the local lumber mill, Grace sets out to determine where Pete came from, where he belongs, and the truth about this dragon.
And Disney has hit the right note again – this time with the live reaction re imagining of Pete’s Dragon, a 1977 musical film written by Malcolm Marmorstein. While the original film felt somewhat weirdly silly (in a good way) with its human and illustration hybrid, the updated version directed by David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) is charming and simple piece of work that is charming from beginning to end.
The 103 minute movie stars Oakes Fegley as Pete, a little boy who grew up in the woods with an enormous, shaggy dragon named Elliot. He is a little like The Jungle Book’s Mowgli, but less chatty and more amiable. His parents died in a car accident early in the film, and he is saved and adopted by the equally tame Elliot. The two spend the next few years together, playing hide and seek in the woods, Oh, Elliot takes Pete on joy rides in the sky too.
And as all coming of age tales go, Pete gets in contact with the ‘outside world’, where he is taken on by a small family and much tackle the challenges of being integrated into a ‘civilised’ society. Problems surface in the form of materialistic loggers, dragon captors, and gasp – worldly loneliness and worries. How would Pete, who was brought up in a simple and stress free environment, deal with this harsh ‘reality’?
A word of caution for cynics – please lay off this delightfully gentle movie that invites viewers to enjoy themselves. You don’t believe in magic and prefer to spend time picking out illogical film plots? Go check out a pretentious arthouse flick instead. You aren’t ready to be moved by a simple story between a boy and his best friend, who happens to be a dragon? Go watch something violent with menacing fire breathing dragons instead. There may not be many ups and downs in the story (cynics will complain that it is predictable), but this film is something Walt Disney would have been proud of - one that will leave viewers smiling and feeling good about how the world is a pleasant place filled with goodness.
After the success of Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016), Disney continues its successful streak of bringing animated classics back to life. This family adventure is the type of sentimental film that you, as a parent, want your children to watch. It contains lessons of what being a good friend means, and why ties that bind are the ones which matter. There is so much sincerity and earnestness in this film, you will want to give a big hug to your loved ones and tell them how much you treasure them in your life.
It helps that Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford headline the film by playing the father and daughter pairing who takes Pete into their human family. They are so likeable on screen, you will feel that there can be no nastiness in the world. Elsewhere, Wes Bentley and Karl Urban are the alpha male characters (the latter is the antagonist who isn’t even that dislikeable).
Needless to say, Fegley is the star of the movie. He portrays Pete with an engaging amount of heart and mind, and he feels like a natural, unlike other child actors who over emote. Not too bad, considering he is acting against a green screen most of the time. The result is a bond between a boy and his dragon, one that have both parties being proud of each other’s existence in life.
(If you are ready to believe in magic, this lovely re-imagining of Disney’s 1977 musical film is an unassumingly gentle piece of work that reminds you that you will smile at the simplest things in life)
Review by John Li