In November of 1977, when I was two years old, the live-action/animation film Pete’s Dragon was released. The movie was described by Common Sense Media as “offbeat with lots of drinking.” While I never saw the original movie, the reference to alcohol is almost comical by today’s standards, where alcohol consumption in kids’ movies is rarely ever glamorized.
Now nearly 39 years later Disney has remade Pete’s Dragon. Along with my nine year old daughter Addie, my five year old niece Riley, and my father, who the girls call Pop-Pop, I went to see Disney’s updated version. None of us ever saw the original movie, but just by looking at the movie poster for the original film, it was apparent that the 2016 film was a movie all its own. The dragon in the 1977 version looked cartoonish whereas the dragon in the most recent version is so realistic looking I honestly forgot at times that he wasn’t real.
The movie starts off with 4 year old Pete reading to his loving parents when tragedy occurs, leaving Pete alone in the woods. Left to fend for himself, Pete finds protection, but more importantly friendship, when he encounters a giant, green dragon, who he names Elliott, after the character in his book.
Fast forward six years, and Pete, played by Oakes Fegely, and Elliott are not only the best of friends, they are truly each other’s family. Together they spend their days wandering the forest, sometimes on foot and sometimes with Pete perched on Elliott’s back as he soars through the sky. Their world is perfect until deforestation brings Pete face to face with his own kind, who want to know how he survived in the woods for six years by himself. Will other humans believe in and accept Elliott’s magic? Will they understand that Elliott loves Pete with all of his heart, and that he would never, ever dream of hurting him?
Pete is forced into an emotional roller coaster as he tries to reconnect with humans while still staying loyal to Elliott. Bryce Dallas Howard plays a forest ranger named Grace, who grew up hearing what she thought were tall tales about a green dragon in the woods. She never believed her father, played by Robert Redford, was telling the truth, and he in turn harbored a bit of disappointment that his daughter was unwilling to entertain the idea that magic may actually exist in the world. Will Pete be the one who will finally show her that dragons are real? Grace’s soon to be stepdaughter Natalie, played by Oona Laurence, gave a convincing performance as she showed unwaivering loyalty and understanding to her new friend Pete.
Addie was extremely emotional throughout much of the movie, and was outright sobbing at one point while a tear or two trickled down my cheek. It honestly made both of our hearts hurt a little as we watched Elliott’s expressive eyes say so much without him uttering a single word. It was evident that Riley’s age made her a little more immune to the drama because she didn’t have the same visceral reaction that Addie had, and Pop-Pop admitted he almost shed a tear.
After the movie was over, Addie, whose voice was still a little shaky as she spoke about it with glassy eyes, said, “I thought it was really sad at times, but it was such an adventure with Pete and Elliott.” (I suspect she was going to say more, but instead she just hugged me tight as she reflected on their friendship.) Riley said, “I liked it! I liked the ending the best!” (Don’t worry! She elaborated, but I won’t include any spoilers.) Pop-Pop commented, “I thought it was excellent for children, and the special effects, of course, 21st century style, made such a difference in the believability of the dragon itself. And I also believe that Robert Redford added that special touch of the mature man of great wisdom. I enjoyed it.”
Riley seemed a bit restless at times during the film, so I suspect kids under the age of five might not be big fans of the updated version, but for kids ages five and up, it’s the perfect family film with several great messages about friendship, family, and believing in magic. And, unlike the original version, there’s no drinking.
Movie times: click here
Directors: David Lowery
Actors: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, West Bentley, Karl Urban, and Robert Redford
Rating: PG for action, peril and brief language.
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes