Mr. Mecham (Robert Redford), a woodcarver, delights local children with stories of a mysterious dragon that lives deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. His daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) believes these are just tall tales, until she meets Pete (Oakes Fegley), a 10 year-old orphan who says he lives in the woods with a giant, friendly dragon named Elliot. With help of her daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence), Grace sets out to investigate if this fantastic claim can be true.
Again with a remake, this time one of a 1977 animated film with the same name. Of course I haven’t seen that one but it’s probably on a VHS in my basement somewhere. While the 1977 original was about a boy named Pete trying to escape his abusive foster parents with the help of a dragon named Elliot but here Pete (Fegley) is an orphan who lives in the woods with Elliot. One day he is discovered by a woman named Grace (Howard) whose father (Redford) tells stories of a mysterious dragon living in the woods. Along with her daughter Natalie (Laurence), Grace sets out to see if her father’s stories are true.
If you’ve seen a lot of Disney films, then you’ve probably seen this already. This one does not bring anything new or original to the table. Expect some sentimentality, an excess of emotion, sad music which will definitely tug on the heartstrings. Some will probably not mind and actually enjoy this and some will think it’s too much. The way the film goes about this in a not particularly original way. This was probably intended to help us to connect to the story but it never happened.
While the film is called Pete’s Dragon, the film focuses on other characters as well. The film starts with Pete and Elliot in the forest meanwhile we also see Grace, who is a forest ranger which was kind of ironic since her husband Jack (Wes Bentley) owns a lumber mill. The film showed her at odds with this a few times but didn’t go too far with this. This was one of many areas in which the film lacked depth. Other than with Pete, none of the characters had any depth to them whatsoever. This made it easy to not care about them.
The story felt like it was less about Pete and more about Elliot. It started off with figuring out how Pete survived in the forest and ended up with trying to save the dragon from Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) who wanted to exploit him to his own benefit. It would have been interesting to learn how Pete survived in the forest but we never got to learn how since the film glossed over this with a flash forward. Besides that, the story never really goes anywhere as there was nothing really to the characters (I learned more after a Wikipedia search). Because of the shallow characters and the overly sappy tone, it was hard to ever get invested.
The dragon obviously wasn’t real and was created via CGI but it wasn’t as good as expected. Elliot looked like a green dog with wings and that fact was distracting for most of the film. Regardless, he had a great personality which stole a lot of scenes where he interacted with others in that he didn’t know what to do around people and they did not know what to do around him. Pete’s relationship with Elliot was fun to watch and the best part of the film but it did not go far enough with it.
The film may not be the most interesting but the performances were still okay all around. Howard was good as Grace even though she didn’t have to do too much. Fegley was good in that he wasn’t annoying. Bentley was barely there. Urban was the most one-dimensional character and was not really necessary to the plot. Redford was perfectly cast as the grandfather.
Overall, while impossible to connect to the story on an emotional level, it was still somewhat interesting and had decent performances.