Well, Disney knocks another one out of the park.
It doesn’t really matter whether or not “Pete’s Dragon” is a financial success, because once again the folks at Disney have made a wonderful film that every other studio in Hollywood should be envying right now (I’m looking at you Warner Bros.).
And not only is “Pete’s Dragon” a wonderful film, it will downright warm your soul. In a year that has been marred with a disgustingly ludicrous election, all of our favorite celebrities dying, and just the entire world apparently hitching a ride toward dystopia a little bit more every day, it’s almost comforting to know I can go watch something like “Pete’s Dragon.” Whether in the theaters or on my TV, you can be sure I will be buying it when it hits the shelves.
Now, I’ll admit I have a bit of bias: I love dragons.
Every since I was a kid I’ve been nuts about them, as well as their slightly less-winged, non-firebreathing cousins the dinosaurs, or so I’m convinced. But I’m not so biased that I will give a movie a pass because it has a dragon in it.
The 1981 film “Dragonslayer,” which is known by many film enthusiasts to have one of the coolest dragons in the entire history of special effects, is an admittedly bad film in most other aspects. 1996’s “Dragonheart,” although a fantastic concept, is aggressively mediocre, as much as it has a great cast. And the 1977 original version of “Pete’s Dragon,” in my opinion, is downright awful. One of the fascinating things about this 2016 version is how much further away on the quality spectrum it is compared to its ancestor. This movie is like some kind of wonderful bizarro version of the original, considering the original came during an era when Disney was really slumming it in the feature film department, and now they seem to be going through some kind of mind-blowing renaissance.
If you are familiar with the old movie more than you care for, fear not. This new version has nothing in common with the original, except that it keeps just the core concept: There are a boy and his dog, er, dragon. Disney scrapped every odd plot point and weird abusive adoptive parent from the old movie and came up with a beautifully heartwarming story with an incredible backdrop. Pete is orphaned in a car accident. As the 4-year-old ventures into the woods alone, he is scared by a pack of wolves chasing him and is rescued by a benevolent and conscientious dragon, who cares for him for the next six years. That is until Pete is discovered in the woods by Forest Ranger Grace (played with a fantastic maternal warmth by Bryce Dallas Howard).
The cast is fantastic all around, with a couple of other performances that are great along with Bryce Dallas Howard’s.
Oakes Fedley (Pete) shows he’s a very believable child actor who I hope gets more work without being corrupted by Hollywood. Robert Redford plays the grandfatherly old man (and Grace’s father) who, in telling his fascinating story about seeing a dragon just may make you feel like a kid again as much as the movie’s real star, Elliot, does.
Elliot the dragon can’t be described beyond being another great creation by Disney — he’s essentially a golden retriever combined with a child’s intelligence and is as loyal and innocent as both. Elliot is a dragon that wants to do nothing but play and live peacefully with his friend, Pete, but will turn reasonably aggressive if attacked. This completely innocent simplicity and loyalty works so well with the aesthetic Disney has given him. In most cases, I’m less-than-enthusiastic about CGI creatures, special effects or characters. (I’m old school, bring me practical makeup and animatronics!). But here, the fact that Elliot looks animated really works, giving him an unreal and almost ethereal quality.
This year had a lot of pretty disappointing summer movies, but “Pete’s Dragon” is not one of them. With dedicated performances, a fantastic creature and story that made me choke up just a bit, I admittedly felt a childlike wonder watching “Pete’s Dragon” that I usually only feel when watching one of Spielberg’s best or something from Disney’s Pixar library.
Interesting note: The new film takes place in the Pacific Northwest. However, many of you who are reading this won’t recognize the locations in the movie. This is because it was shot in New Zealand, which seems no less than necessary to convey the magic this movie tries to make you feel. And as beautiful as Washington can be, it doesn’t look anywhere near as amazing as the locations they used for the movie.
“Pete’s Dragon” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.
George Haerle is a 2008 graduate of Aberdeen High School. He holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.