Here we are, 39 years and a few months since the original Pete’s Dragon was released. Other than the title and the two main characters, there is no similarity between the two films. They are even set on opposite coasts.
After his parents were killed in a car accident in the remote forest, five-year-old Pete was raised deep in the woods by a large green dragon. Six years later, after being spotted in the woods, the humans in a small logging town try to figure out where he came from. The film has all the markings of a genuine tearjerker crossed with an environmental flick in the first 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, the pacing was very uneven throughout Pete’s Dragon, leaving the audience grasping as things move from one scene to the next. Many of the lines were delivered as if being read for the first time off a teleprompter. This was very frustrating because those delivering the lines are good actors.
Karl Urban, Robert Redford, and Bryce Dallas Howard are all good—even excellent—actors, but something held them back here. Several times, Redford seemed to be cold-reading his lines. Urban was good at making dramatic poses, but his character lacked the depth it needed. Howard was really good at being nice and gentle, but the dramatic scenes fell flat.
There were far too many sheriff’s cars for such a small town. There is just no way a tiny logging town could afford 15-20 of them, let alone afford paying that many deputies. The first time I saw the long line of them, Pete’s Dragon derailed completely at that point. Even for a fantasy film, that was completely unbelievable.
It felt like an independent film: the plot moved more slowly, sometimes wandered a bit. It almost felt as if I was sittin’ on a porch sippin’ lemonade while watching the world wander by. This is not really surprising since David Lowery is known for his work in all aspects of independent film. This makes me concerned since he’s going to be directing the upcoming live Peter Pan film from Disney.
Now, lest you think I hated Pete’s Dragon, let me be clear: The film was enjoyable. The death scene at the beginning was toned down so even very young children could handle it. This is a very Disney film. The scenery was spectacular (New Zealand, so what do you expect?), and the special effects were very well done. Good job, Weta Digital!
Even with all its cheesy cheerfulness, I will always like the original 1977 film much more than this one. It understood what it was and embraced it thoroughly. This version of Pete’s Dragon, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to find itself. It got most of the way there, but fell short. Children should enjoy it, but the adults watching with them may feel a bit let down.
Release Date: August 12, 2016 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG
Language: 1 (brief, mild)
Violence: 1 (brief fighting with dragon, tranquilizers, fire breathing, mild peril)