Disney continues to bring new life to their old catalog, this time giving us a live-action version of their 1977 animated film, Pete’s Dragon.
Young Pete (Oakes Fegley) is stranded at age 5 after a car accident kills his parents. But after a dragon named Elliot befriends him and becomes his protector, he lives a happy life in the forest.
When a kind forest ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), brings Pete out of the forest, Pete is confused by this different world. He is hospitalized for observation, which terrifies him. Eventually Grace takes him to her fiance’s home to stay while they work things out. While he’s happy to be with them, he misses Elliot even more. Grace’s father, played by Robert Redford, has been telling stories for years about the dragon he saw in the forest when he was younger. He believes that Pete may be telling the truth about the dragon.
Disaster and car chases ensue as Elliot’s existence becomes known and others try to capture him for their own gain. The “bad guy” here is an overly aggressive employee of the lumber company. His disregard for the careful use of trees lends a minor subtext to the story, which encourages environmental responsibility.
The script is slower than many of today’s children’s movies, and it lacks the edgy humor so many animated films use to attract older fans. A few scenes might be a bit scary for younger or more sensitive children, such as the car accident at the beginning and a scene where it appears that others may have died.
However, there is a welcome, slightly old-fashioned sense of wonder and magic. Elliot is a nicely imagined computer-generated character, furry rather than scaly, and more prone to sneezes than fiery exhalations. The forest looks like an exciting place to explore and might encourage viewers to take a hike, literally.
Pete’s Dragon is a sweet family film that affirms the fragile and precious nature of life in all its forms.