By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Trying to convince my buddy James Shaw to go see the remake of Pete’s Dragon is like pulling hair. When considering he has a fondness for the original and does not want memories of that being tarnished, I had to wonder if this fuddy-duddy will ever accept anything modern? For example, he hates using tablet computers whereas I love using them. In comparing him to the original version starring Sean Marshall, I have to say they both have that lost look which makes them excellent company for one another. But I have to ask, who is leading the blind? In this film’s case, who knows how to phone home first? Is the dragon a figment of Pete’s imagination or is he an extraterrestrial? Most likely neither. But in this remake, the concept of a lost individual (be it human or animal) needing to find that forever home impressed upon me sooner than later.
The origins are explained. A very young Pete (Levi Alexander) finds himself alone in very dense woods after an accident claims the lives of his parents. He is of an age where he does not comprehend what happened and six years later, he (Oakes Fegley) has not become completely feral when the spirit of the woods, a dragon whom he names Elliot, finds him. If there’s a deeper interpretation to be found, I have to say perhaps the spirits of his parents became part of this dragon’s very nature in order to help him survive. When considering this new version of Elliot has more canine features (and thankfully does not speak), I wonder if these creatures originally came from the dog-star Sirius? (technically, the scene where the leads are looking to the night sky is to the North Star).
The movie is not entirely clear when the story takes place. A few telltale signs after the introduction indicates circa late 70’s transitioning to the 80’s. This era is lovingly recreated to instill a tone which I loved from the movies made by Disney at this time. Among the list includes Escape to Witch Mountain and The Cat from Outer Space. Tones of Dragonslayer could have been injected into this film and thankfully there was none. Instead, I was left recalling The Neverending Story (non Disney) and Flight of the Navigator. The charm that I enjoyed from these movies from that era earns this film top marks.
The story is about togetherness. Whether that’s with establishing strong familial bonds or in how a boy loves his pet (I can easily draw comparisons to Hiccup and Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon or with Lilo and Stitch in the film of the same name), to watch this movie is not without some tear-jerking moments. James admitted to nearly crying at some moments, and I’m asking myself, are we going to have a Free Willy moment in this tale?
All stories need an antagonist of some sort, and with this tale, Karl Urban plays Gavin, a logger turned animal hunter. From “Bones” McCoy in the rebooted Star Trek to Judge Dredd in Dredd, this character’s subdued type of nastiness is born out of greed. He thinks that with catching the dragon and exhibiting him can turn the economy of the town of Millhaven around. The intentions were well-meaning, but ultimately, the other locals have a bigger say. Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard) grew up loving the woods. She does not like the fact her fiancé Jack (Wes Bentley) represents a different side of the fence. He’s the boss of a local lumber mill and he has to look out for the economic survival of this town. His motivation is divided. However, for his brother, Gavin, just who can direct or become the next civil leader remains in question. Not a lot of exploration is needed to pursue this subplot, but I was intrigued nonetheless.
Grace’s father (Robert Redford) has a bit of a role in this film. I wanted to see more of him, as he provides the narration to set up this wonderful tale. When this movie comes full circle, it is his voice that we hear instead of Pete. The MacGuffin to help move this story along is a child’s book, Elliot Gets Lost. We never know how this picture book ends until the film does. Like most of Disney’s family friendly films, the finale leaves the viewer with warm and fuzzy feelings to coo and warm your heart over. For this film, that’s all anyone needs.
4½ Dragons out of 5