Pete’s Dragon review: A pleasingly old-fashioned Disney reboot
Film Review: Pete's Dragon

Matthew Turner delivers his verdict on Disney's fantasy adventure Pete's Dragon, starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford

Pete's Dragon

A young, orphaned boy grows up in the woods alongside a giant, friendly green dragon named Elliot, in this enjoyable fantasy film

Director: David Lowery
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Karl Urban, Robert Redford
Genre: Fantasy / Adventure
Country: USA
Release date: August 12, 2016
Cert: PG
Running time: 103 mins

Disney have had a lot of success recently with their reboots of various back catalogue classics – think Cinderella and The Jungle Book – and that trend is set to continue with the upcoming release of a live-action Beauty and the Beast.

In the meantime we have Pete’s Dragon, a reboot of a largely forgotten 1977 fantasy adventure which wisely keeps only the core concept of a boy named Pete and a dragon named Elliot, and jettisons the singing, dancing and slapstick nature of the original.

Pleasingly old-fashioned

The film opens with a classic Disney trauma-inducing moment, in which a car crash kills 4 year old Pete’s (Levi Alexander) parents and leaves him stranded in the forest.

Shortly afterwards, he meets Elliot, a friendly, green-furred dragon, who literally takes the boy under his wing. Six years later, a near-feral Pete (now played by Oakes Fegley) is discovered living in the forest by kindly park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose sawmill-owning fiance Jack (Wes Bentley) is chopping down swathes of the forest.

But when the townsfolk of Millhaven learn of the dragon’s existence, Jack’s gung-ho brother Gavin (Karl Urban) sets out to capture him.

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Directed by David Lowery (hitherto best known for indie hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), the film has a pleasingly old-fashioned feel – accentuated by its unspecified though pointedly ‘not-modern-day’ setting. It recalls The Iron Giant, a similarly-themed classic in the magical best friend genre.

In addition, the special effects are extremely impressive, with Elliot’s furry, dog-like appearance suggesting he’s a distant cousin of Falkor, the dragon from The Never-Ending Story.

Emotional dividends

Oakes Fegley makes a convincing wild child as Pete and there’s engaging support from Oona Laurence (as Jack’s 11 year-old daughter, Natalie, who befriends Pete), while Howard brings a touching softness and warmth to her role as Grace. Similarly, Robert Redford is nicely cast as Grace’s twinkly-eyed father Meachum, who saw “the Millhaven dragon” himself as a child, but was never believed.

The plot itself is deceptively slight, with the focus firmly on the various relationships depicted in the film (boy and dragon included), which pays strong emotional dividends.

That said, Lowery delivers a genuinely exciting central set-piece as Pete and Natalie have to figure out what to do when Elliot is in danger, and the final act is both powerfully moving and dramatically satisfying.

Worth seeing?

A definite stand-out in 2016’s summer of reboots, this is a charming and likeable fantasy adventure that will make you wish you had a dragon of your own.

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