David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon is a warm, and sentimental palate cleanser that allowed me to laugh out loud, shed a tear, and carry on. With challenging, emotional, and weird films filling my brain lately (The Lobster, Free State of Jones, and Swiss Army Man) this re-imagining of the original 1977 live-action-animated-musical that I loved as a kid was gentle on my eyes, ears, and emotions.
Like the original, the new Pete’s Dragon is mostly set in the woods, though this time the scenery is lush, green, and softly lit instead of dark and foreboding. It also features a wholly live-action cast, save Elliot, who receives a beautiful upgrade from hand-drawn cartoon to a computer generated masterpiece. Elliot is jade green, furry, and if I could just reach out and touch him I know he would be warm! Aside from the setting and the names of the main characters, this is a totally new tale.
A boy and his dog… er, dragon
Pete, orphaned in the woods by a car accident while on an adventure with his parents has but one talisman from his previous life: a picture book about a dog named Elliot who gets lost in the woods. We learn from Robert Redford’s grandfatherly narration that Elliot the dragon is also an orphan of sorts, and secluded in the mystical forest, Pete and Elliot form their bond. They chase each other through the trees, splash in the river, and scare away bears. Loyalty, comfort, companionship, and a sense of belonging are shared between the two that at times reflects one’s relationship with a favorite childhood pet, and at other times the familial bond is much deeper.
A family of choice
Inevitably the summer-vacation-meets-woodland-fantasy-like paradise that Pete and Elliot exist within must meet the “real world” and therein lies the tension between our darling duo and the rest of, well, everybody else:
Kindhearted forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard of Jurassic World fame) who happens to be motherless wants to rescue Pete who wants to keep his friend Elliot safe from society.
Logging brothers Jack (Wes Bentley) Grace’s fiancé and single-dad, and Gavin (Karl Urban) the ambitious semi-villainous character bicker over priorities.
Old man Meacham is somewhere in the middle as Grace’s father, played by Robert Redford, who insists upon regaling the town with his dragon-lore even though no one believes him.