It’s hard to watch “Pete’s Dragon” without getting “The Jungle Book” vibes. At least at first. After the initial comparisons, the former transforms into its own story, one that isn’t necessarily unfamiliar, but which is heartwarming and sweet all the same.
On an “adventure” with his parents (they’re taking a road trip), the family gets into a car accident that leaves young Pete (Oakes Fegley) an orphan with nothing but a book by the name of “Elliot Gets Lost” to keep with him. As he walks into the forest, a green and lively dragon, that has the magical ability to conceal itself when not wanting to be seen, finds Pete. The two pair off and live alone together in the forest where no one can find or hurt them. The green dragon, Elliot, named after the title character in Pete’s book, becomes legend in the local town after Meacham (Robert Redford) claims to have seen him once.
Six years after the accident, Pete is confronted with the human world once again when local lumberjacks begin a project that intends to hack through a lot of the trees in the area Pete and Elliot call home. Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a local cop, finds Pete and takes him back to the world he once knew. But not long after Pete is found does Elliot go looking for his best friend and is seen by Gavin (Karl Urban), a lumberjack who has differing opinions on the family business he helps run with his brother, Jack (Wes Bentley), and who is intent on finding the dragon and making a spectacle of it to bring him attention.
The original film was a musical and I can see how the translation into a non-musical remake could lose some of its magic, but this remake of the film still works out fairly well. The heart-tugging moments are present, the transition from living in one place and moving to another (with an entirely new family) is probably the most palpable. The scenes played for emotion are done well, with just the right amount of youth and adulthood to touch all ages. “Pete’s Dragon” could easily have turned into a badly written tale with terrible effects, but instead, it’s touching and warm. The characters are at the heart of the film, driving the story, and although the narrative takes a few turns into certain tropes, it’s the themes and bonds between Pete, Elliot, Natalie (Oona Laurence) and Grace that really allow the film to remain grounded amid the adventures of a magical dragon.
“Pete’s Dragon” is easily a family film that everyone can enjoy. It has the fantastical aspects, but at the heart it’s a tale of a lost boy who befriends a dragon and part of his growth is realizing that he needs his newfound family as well. The performances of both Fegley and Laurence are strong and they’re balanced by the adults’ presence in the film, who (for the most part) provide a semblance of sensibility. “Pete’s Dragon” is most certainly one of the more heartwarming films of the summer.
"Pete's Dragon" is easily a family film that everyone can enjoy. It has the fantastical aspects, but at the heart it's a tale of a lost boy who befriends a dragon and part of his growth is realizing that he needs his newfound family as well.