Disney’s latest strategy of making new live action films based off old properties continued this weekend with “Pete’s Dragon.”
Like the 1977 movie, “Pete’s Dragon” follows the titular character, played by Oakes Fegley, who is orphaned in the middle of a vast forest at age 5. The film’s story picks up about six years later when Pete, and his dragon Elliot, too, start to be noticed by other people as the forestry industry goes further into the woods.
This leads to Pete eventually meeting Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who starts to believe the boy’s tales about a dragon as her own father Meacham (Robert Redford) also claimed to have seen one.
The 2016 “Pete’s Dragon” certainly has some heartwarming moments scattered throughout its 102 minute run time. From its early scenes of Pete and Elliot just spending time together to the main character learning about the nearby towns people and starting to form bonds with a new family, this Disney feature certainly makes for an enjoyable family picture.
The movie does have some issues, though, when it comes to its second act. It was as if the picture spends so much time setting things up that it doesn’t really feel like it has that much of a middle. It leads to a climax with a rather generic antagonist that felt rushed and anti-climactic.
This also means that some of the exposition sequences feel a little bit dull, slowing down the overall product.
While the movie’s story does feel a bit thin at points, though, my first statement on the film still stands. “Pete’s Dragon” does have plenty of heart and it expresses it quite well. This is partly thanks to the solid performances it features.
An impressive bit of work came from Fegley, who did a nice job in the lead role of Pete. He lends the right amount fear of the other humans, curiosity about the new town around him and anger at what some might do to his giant green friend.
Howard, meanwhile, provides a good emotional core to the movie as Pete’s eventual mother-figure. Her character is caring and kind to the kid from the forest and Howard manages to pull the part off convincingly.
I also enjoyed Redford in his part as the experienced man who may or may not have seen a dragon. Unfortunately, though, his character was sorely lacking in screen time. He could have used many more scenes to help bring another level of mysticism to the picture.
What does bring magic to the screen is the dragon itself. Elliot is fully brought to life through the use of CGI and the creature has many scenes where it seems lifelike. Being such an oddly shaped animal, there are some moments where the dragon is a little unconvincing, but for the most part, this Disney flick was able to bring the beast to life.
“Pete’s Dragon” is probably not the most memorable live action addition to Disney’s lineup, it’s certainly not on the level of this year’s “Jungle Book,” for example. However, the film can win audiences over by its performances, heartwarming scenes and a largely coherent story that leads its characters to a better place. 3 out of 5.