It is important to point out that, while the title is the same and it is made by the same company, Disney’s 2016 Pete’s Dragon is not a typical remake of Disney’s 1977 musical. While magical, this movie is not a musical. Instead it is a timeless bit of storytelling that pulls at your heartstrings.
The movie is strategically set, sometime in the past, but there is nothing giving away a specific era of time. It will be a movie that ages well because of this. The small mill town sits on the edge of a forest where Pete grows up with his companion Elliot. Tales are told of dragons living up north in the woods where no one knows.
The opening scene instantly sets the stage with typical Disney trope – parents death – is done tastefully but still will make your eyes water. Elliot, a dragon, is very much a rather large dog protective of his friend. There are the skeptical adults, children who still have open minds enough to believe, and an old man (Robert Redford) who met the dragon once upon a time.
From the get-go, the story is an adventure of a boy finding a family while protecting his friend. The film evokes the feelings of a classic live-action Disney movie. You are sucked into the story, feel for its characters, and are rooting for that happy ending.
A lot of that is accomplished with how expertly cast the film is. Robert Redford provides the gravitas needed but still has the twinkle in his eye needed to believe. Bryce Dallas Howard is a delight – easily providing the perspective of the audience through the film. And even Karl Urban as the closest thing to an antagonist provided just the right amount of believable acting needed to root against him but not hate the man.
Really though, it is the children actors who sell the film. Oakes Fegley’s Pete was surprisingly touching – especially with the computer generated Elliot. With just a look, the audience will be reaching for tissue. Oona Laurence as Natalie, the young girl he befriends, makes for a perfect stand-in for the young audience. Every child who would not want to be Pete will pretend they are Natalie – the gracious, kind friend who knows when to help to do what is right.
The movie truly tugs your heart strings. Yes, it has a happy ending, but be prepared for the roller coaster your feelings will be taken on. As mentioned earlier, from the very beginning, your composure will be tested. It handles the looking for a family beautifully and you will want to call your loved ones afterwards!
While not as visually stunning as The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon surpasses it by story alone. Definitely worth seeing in theaters.