Director: David Lowery
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban, Wes Bentley & Oakes Begley
Pete’s Dragon tells the story of Pete, a young boy who has lived the past six years of his life in a forest with a dragon named Elliot. Pete is discovered by the people of a small logging town nearby, and soon everyone is after the mysterious and legendary dragon for their own reasons – both kind and sinister.
Director David Lowery has imbued the film with the wonder and charm that Disney does best, while still managing to find his own voice in the movie. The sweet charm of the small town is very well-captured, and even scene is drawn out to grant the viewer every possible emotion. Lowery makes the central theme of family – something overdone by every ‘family’ genre movie – engrossing and beautiful to watch.
Oakes Begley (Pete) commands the weight of such a movie well for a child actor, and shares lovely scenes with Bryce Dallas Howard as his girlfriend Grace. Together, they give us a caring and empathic relationship that almost tops the relationship of Pete and Elliot the dragon.
The truly great standout though was Robert Redford, Grace’s father. Despite the huge acting chops behind him, Redford can still pull off his Pete’s Dragon character with heart-warming life and illumination like it was second-nature.
Elliot’s character design is strange (whoever heard of a fluffy dragon?), but it makes sense, since the creature is almost more dog than dragon. Hilarious and intricately-animated, it is regrettable that this titular character didn’t have had more screen time.
Nice and simple to watch, the film is perhaps too unambitious with its themes – it’s lack of challenging or heavy material making the film feel slight. It felt as if the filmmakers just wanted to stick to the formula proven by E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and The Iron Giant, without pursuing anything more complicated.
The first and third acts are exciting and grab our attention with humour and gorgeous location shots, but the second act is almost glacial in its pacing. Lowery can direct the scenery and characters well, but the script is underwritten and doesn’t provide enough imagination.
While Pete’s Dragon may seem too slow for kids and adults to enjoy in the same way as this year’s The Jungle Book, the overall experience outweighed the flaws. Pete’s Dragon was still tender and touching, boasting the magic at the heart of every good Disney movie.
Review by Christopher Spencer