PETE’S DRAGON REVIEW
Starring: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford
Directed by David Lowery
It’s been a lousy summer. Brexit. Trump. ISIS. Turkey – the list of divisive events is well on its way to becoming endless, which means that Pete’s Dragon has arrived just on time to prove an antidote to the grim world of 2016.I have yet to see the BFG, having been put off by how obvious the CGI is, but I already feel confident to prescribe Pete’s Dragon as being the best Steven Spielberg film of the summer (even though he had nothing to do with it).
The story is simple – a young boy survives a car crash which kills his parents, and proceeds to hide in the all-encompassing woods. He is about to be eaten by wolves when a dragon appears to whisk him away. Six years later, and Pete lives as a feral child in the forest with his companion, now named Eliot. All seems to be well until outside forces (a forest ranger and a logging company) interfere. There are some moments in the rest of the story that are predictable, but I won’t go into those for fear of spoilers; yet a lot also happens that shows nuanced thinking from David Lowery – the co-writer/director, which helps to make this Pete’s Dragon a very different beast (pardon the pun) from the original film.
Lowery’s previous film, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, was a hard drama, so to the casual admirer it may be a surprise to see such a filmmaker handle such apparently juvenile material. However, this means that the film’s story and themes are handled with natural maturity, and I found myself drawing many parallels towards ET as the running time raced past. Onscreen, Lowery has extracted a wonderfully truthful performance from youngster Oakes Fegley, and I already know that my mum and sisters will ball up when they see the movie. Eliot, who has far more dog in him than most dragons (he’s a thousand times cuter than Smaug the Magnificent), is a fully CGI effect, but there is a heart to his character that makes you forget just how much the digital animation features. Their central relationship, between Pete and his dragon, could not be better portrayed, and it comes surprisingly close to equalling that iconic ET friendship.
Providing the support is a cast and production team that is clearly committed to the project. Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford and Karl Urban all thrive onscreen, even if Wes Bentley is oddly marginalised. Redford in particular brings gravitas to his performance, and he also helps to create a sense of place that is so important to Lowery’s picture. Though no exact date or location is set, and there is a timeless aspect to the world, the film presents an isolated town with its own myths and legends so naturally you’ll practically assume it’s a real place in the US northwest; all of which concludes to sell one of the most satisfying endings I’ve seen in years.
Overall, Pete’s Dragon is a remarkable remake that easily improves on the original and could definitely become a classic family film. Failing that, it’s definitely the best picture this year to feature Karl Urban getting soaked by dragon snot.