Pete's Dragon (2016) Review: My Furry Friend And Me.
Calling something a “Family film” is a strange bit of marketing. When I hear that I think here’s a movie that won’t offend you, be very charming, and probably make you cry a little. At the very best it might have a lesson to teach you, and at it’s worst, it’ll be something to put on for your kids so they’ll shut up for once. To that end, a family film that works “for the whole family” can be pretty great, and unifying. They may not be the film you jump to when picking out something to watch, but then again, maybe they will. They’re low risk. Anyone who hates a family film is…dead inside.
‘Pete’s Dragon’ is a pretty well done family film. It’s based on the 1977 original of the same name, but seemingly in name only. I mean yes there’s a boy named Pete and it has a dragon, but other than that, the movie follows a different narrative than the original. The best case scenario for a remake is one that takes the idea of the original and expands upon it in a meaningful way. Pete’s Dragon gets this right. Mostly.
Pete is a young boy who has a slightly different upbringing than most other kids. Pete’s home is the forest, in a tree, with a dragon. After a wave of unsanctioned construction goes deeper into the forest, Pete is discovered by his own kind, and taken in by the closest thing he’s ever had to a family. When the town hears of a dragon in the woods, the appropriate uproar follows and Pete must choose between his love for his dragon and his new family.
Pete’s dragon is a story that’s been seen before. It covers themes of belonging and fear of the unknown that were present in films like The Iron Giant and even E.T. The fact that the dragon’s name is Elliot only furthers the E.T parallel. Like those movies, ‘Pete’s Dragon’ will draw forth your tear ducts. There’s so much work done in the first act of the film to make you fall in love with Elliot, Pete, and their relationship, that as the movie’s conflict continues, you can’t help but feel the movie yank at your heart strings.
Whenever Pete and Elliot are on screen the movie is elevated. Oakes Fegley does an excellent job as a kid who has to deal with intense feelings of loss and fear. His other half, Elliot the dragon, is yet another impressive computer generated creature that conveys the feeling of the real thing. Without these two important elements, I dare to say the film wouldn’t work.
Because of the work put behind those elements, the rest of the film somewhat falters. The other characters are more or less archetypes. I say more or less because there are elements of character there, but there’s very little time devoted to diving into them. The scenes we do get with the adults of the film are a little flat, with the dialogue being a little cliched. The type of stuff you expect to be said by the villain of the movie is said, and saved only by the grace of Karl Urban
That doesn’t mean the performances are bad per se, it just means the scenes detract from the rest of the movie, and the pacing suffers. You get the sense that these scenes just exist to move the plot along. Of those performances though, everyone does a serviceable job. It’s hard for people like Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban and Robert Redford to be bad. The more impressive though is the other child actor Oona Laurence, as Pete’s first human friend.
Pete’s Dragon is a movie that has very concrete ideas about what it wants to say, and how it wants to say it. It’s messages are clear and resonate masterfully. The trouble is getting to those messages is a bit of a hassle. While I appreciate a movie that deals with the mature themes of xenophobia, I wish the characters that displayed them weren’t so paint by numbers. There’s very little complexity to the villain of the story, but I suppose that’s necessary for it to be so clear with it’s purpose. It’s definitely worth seeing, but perhaps only at a discount.
Rating: Half Price