Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Release Date: August 10, 2016
Director: David Lowery
Story by: S.S. Field, Seton I. Miller
Screenplay: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks
Cast: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban
I’ll confess, I was a total skeptic. First with the latest adaptation of The Jungle Book, and then with Pete’s Dragon. For fans of the “original” Disney animated films, these adaptations weren’t as faithful as they’ve should have, but it turns out I’m a fan of these newer takes, considering Cinderella is my least favorite of all so far.
In Pete’s Dragon, the newer take on the story is a pro and a con— great because it’s become its own story dealing with its own themes, and a con because it has nothing to do with the original adaptation, which can be taken as a total money-grab. Apparently, director David Lowery based his story closer to the unpublished short by Seton Miller, eliminating the Disneyfication with the songs and the bad guys that are after Elliot, the dragon. In here, Pete (first played by Levi Alexander as a 5-year-old, and later played by Fegley) is on a family trip, when the car runs into a deer causing the car to somersault, killing both his parents. Years pass with Pete living in the forest without anyone noticing, until his fateful meeting with forest ranger, Grace (Howard).
From the very beginning, Pete’s Dragon has a distinctive 80s feel; from the way it deals with the loss of Pete’s parents, his isolation from the world, and the chase scene after the hospital feels like a complete throwback to those times. The small town setting and the complete lack of modern technology definitely help, but are not the sole reason the film feels like it’s set in another time. It is extremely rare that movies aimed at children nowadays hit so many emotional elements, to the point that this seems like the Pixarization of a Disney original. There’s a lot of introspection as we reveal that this magical fluffy dragon is the personification of dealing with loss, pointing at a connection between Pete, Grace and Grace’s father, Meacham (Redford), which was really well done. Meacham is no longer an old drunk, yo!
The film is rather short, clocking at barely 1.30hr (considering The Jungle Book was hitting the 2hr. mark), it’s quick-paced, and seems rather convoluted in the final arc with the capture of Elliot and his escape, which also brought memories of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. However, my biggest grip with the movie is that I still can’t get over the fact that it’s a fluffy dragon. It’s a character design issue that has nothing to do with the quality of graphics and special effects, which are not as in-your-face dazzling as Disney’s previous live-action, and are much more subdued like all of the storytelling.
The biggest mistake of Pete’s Dragon is that it was released this year, playing as second-tier (or third-tier) Disney. It’ll definitely become a cult classic, playing much better for adults.