In a summer chock full of critical misses and box office disappointments, it’s refreshing to see a Disney production helmed by an “arthouse” director in David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) and made at a lower price point, costing “only” $65 million. Though its sedate pace probably won’t endear it to the youngest tots, there’s still enough charm and maturity to make this one worth a go.
In 1977, young Pete is involved in a car accident that claims the lives of his parents. Pete is then rescued by a furry, kindly dragon that resides in the forest, who he promptly names Elliott. Six years later, with Pete (Oakes Fegley) now 11 years of age, the pair accidentally become known to the real world, and must contend with the inevitable complications this brings to their peaceful lives.
In its most basic terms, this remake of the 1977 live-action animated musical is a simple boy-and-his-dog story…except the dog happens to be a giant dragon. In scaling back the stylistic complexity of the original as well as the oppressively long run-time, Lowery has crafted a superior effort that, while not especially ambitious, knows exactly what it wants to be and succeeds as a gently enjoyable adventure yarn.
Now, a few pre-requisites emerge; the majority of the adult characters are cruelly under-served here, especially Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley and Karl Urban, while Robert Redford at least provides a welcome charisma injection in a dual role as narrator and warm, grandfatherly rescuer.
It ultimately all comes down to the youngsters, especially Fegley and the terrific Oona Lawrence, the latter of whom is one of Hollywood’s fastest-rising child actors following her impressive work in last year’s Southpaw. Their interactions with Elliott feel real even though they’re likely acting opposite a plastic head on a stick for significant portions of the movie. It’s fair to say that Elliott himself doesn’t look as robust as many CG creations from movies with double or triple the budget, but he’s likely cute enough to make up for it for most audiences (especially the young ones).
The fairly mild conflict and sedate pace won’t make it for everyone, but adults will likely appreciate the delicacy and more grown-up tone, as well as the terrifically folksy music and gorgeous cinematography. It’s not massively exciting or jolting in any way, but rather a warm cup of cocoa and comfy blanket of a movie. Administer as required.
Pete’s Dragon is in cinemas now