Director: David Lowery
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Oona Laurence, Isiah Whitlock Jr
Written by: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks, (based on a screenplay) Malcolm Marmorstein, (based on a story) Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field
Running Time: 103 mins
Release date: 12th August 2016
Disney continues their recent trend of re-imagining their back catalogue with the 1977 whimsical musical, Pete’s Dragon, which mixed live action with animation, although we were never too sure about Helen Reddy as to which she was. Gone are the songs, the painfully gleeful colours and overacting, to be replaced by charm, warmth and one of the biggest surprises of the year.
After surviving a car accident, a young boy wanders alone in the deepest forest, only to be saved by a giant furry dragon. Six years later, while slowly cutting the forest down, forest ranger, Grace, discovers the boy who has managed to live in the depths of the woodland. Taking him back to town, they soon discover that his survival was all due to the legendary creature that has been spoken about, mostly by Grace’s father, Meacham, which causes local lumberjack, Gavin, a chance for fame and fortune if he can capture the monster.
Co-writer and director David Lowery wouldn’t have been the natural choice for this film, considering his last film was the heavily 70’s influenced crime drama, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Yet the same feel for small-town Americana, a whiff of 70’s cinema and an eye for the understated is all on offer here and it works magnificently. Whereas the original was loud and bombastic, this is gentle and quiet, never once entering into the realms of slapstick and forced behaviour, but an understanding that children, when given the right equipment for flights of fancy, can be transported into magical worlds, even when the setting is more down to earth.
The film laid out its stall almost immediately with a sequence when the lost Pete finds himself surrounded by wolves and saved by the CGI created bundle of fluff, Elliott, who is more dog than dragon and who gently and tenderly takes the shell-shocked boy into his arms and gives him the love he dearly needs. A scene that, minutes into the film, almost had me welling up.
Lowery, like Spielberg’s The BFG, doesn’t rush things but allows the story to move along at a gentle pace, giving time for the characters to develop and grow. These are ordinary people, from the kind and caring Grace with her love for nature, to Gavin, who is the villain of the piece and yet there is nothing really bad about him, just a man out to make a quick buck, which, let’s face it, we all are. Lowery seems to be influenced by another Spielberg family favourite, ET, in which a small boy befriends something that is looked upon as evil but is the complete opposite.
In fact, this has the same sentimental feel as ET, in the fact that it is the friendship between Pete and Elliott that really brings this film together. You find yourself caring about what happens to the pair, as they are separated from each other and the dragon becomes the target of hunters. It is the heart of this fine, beautifully shot production.
The performances are delightful too. Bryce Dallas Howard, fresh from her success in last year’s Jurassic World, is perfectly suited as the calm and caring Grace, while Robert Redford brings a touch of Hollywood old-school charm as Grace’s father. Yet it is young Oakes Fegley as Pete who wins the day. A boy out of touch with the modern world, even if that world seems out of touch with our own modern world, full of wonderment and joy, while at the same time feeling lost and confused, Fegley is terrific.
Not as accomplished and mesmerising as Disney’s last reboot, The Jungle Book, this was a delightful surprise considering that, from the trailer, it doesn’t look like much. It’s full of love and compassion and genuine sentimentality. You’ll instantly forget there even was an original. A magical winner.