Pete’s Dragon, rated PG
The 1977 version of Pete’s Dragon was an animated musical and received two Oscar nominations for the music. This new film is directed by David Lowery who also co-wrote the film with Toby Halbrooks and is based on a short story by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field. Lowery and Halbrooks worked together on 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. The music is by Daniel Hart, who also did the music for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and was a good addition to the film. Included were a few folk-type songs, some with an early Bob Dylan feel to them.
The new film has a budget of approximately $65 million and is set in the town of Millhaven in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s.
Disney is known for sad scenes. The film opens with another one of them; we then see Pete head into the forest. Just before he is about to be killed by wolves he is rescued by a dragon. The dragon is a big green winged furry beast who can make himself invisible whenever he wants. But he is also kind-hearted, and he and Pete show each other sacrificial love throughout the film.
For six years the two are inseparable, best friends. Pete, now 11, played by Oakes Fegley, names the magical dragon Elliot, after the lost puppy in a book that is important to him. We get to see the two of them playing together in the forest which is a joyful part of the film. Elliot isn’t perfect – he has a chipped tooth and doesn’t always have the most graceful of landings after he has been soaring through the air. And, he is known to sneeze and leave his snot all over whatever (or whoever) is nearby. This section of the film was my favorite. It brought to mind some of the best parts of Disney’s The Jungle Book from earlier this year. I enjoyed the way the film also really brings out the personality of Elliot, much like The BFG (my favorite film of the year) did with the Big Friendly Giant.
Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard, Claire from Jurassic World) is a Forest Service Ranger. Her father Mr. Meacham (Oscar winner Robert Redford), taught her about the woods and tells stories about a dragon he once saw that lives in the forest. Grace doesn’t believe his silly stories, but her stepdaughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) does.
Pete sees Grace walking in the forest. Soon, he is spotted by Natalie. Pete and Elliot’s peaceful existence in the forest is disrupted by loggers, Gavin (Karl Urban, who recently played Bones in Star Trek Beyond), and his brother Jack (Wes Bentley). The loggers are portrayed as bad guys in the film as we see them taking down trees in the forest.
The film was sadder than expected, and it will pull on your heartstrings. The importance of family is a key theme in the film. Because of some of the mature themes in the film as well as some scary scenes with the dragon, this film may not be appropriate for the youngest viewers. Otherwise, it would be appropriate for the entire family. Overall, this was one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen this year. (Note: my wife thought it was too sad and only gave it two stars for that reason.)
I didn’t see the 1977 film or read the book as a child, so I don’t know how close to the original story this film is. If you have seen the first film or read the book and also see this film, please leave a comment and let us know what you think.