PETE'S DRAGON. US, 2016, 104 minutes, Colour. Oakes Fedgley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oona Lawrence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Isiah Whitlock Jr. Directed by David Lowery.
Back in 1977, Disney produced a family film, with some special effects and starring Helen Reddy, Pete’s Dragon. Almost 40 years on, Disney have reworked the story and produced a film that will have strong appeal to family audiences – although there is a disturbing sequence at the beginning involving a car accident which may be a bit much for younger audiences, the little boy involved, Pete, being only five.
The setting is the forests of Northwest America, some rather remote territory (filmed in New Zealand) although the film shows the timber industry making incursions and cutting down a lot of trees. But, in the trees, six years after the accident, Pete is living in a tree hut, which may remind audiences who know The Jungle Book, of young Mowgli out in the jungle. But, instead of friendly bears and threatening tigers, Pete’s main friend, who rescued him after the accident, is a rather genial Dragon called Elliot.
Children will enjoy Elliot, a very friendly Dragon, not one of those menacingly flying around and breathing smoke and fire monsters. Pete and Elliott have been companions over the years, enjoying each other’s company, flying through and over the trees, with Elliot having a great talent of camouflage, seeming to disappear into the forests.
Then we see the adults. Meacham, Robert Redford, is a very friendly man, who tells the local children stories about having seen a dragon in the forest which they take with something of a grain of salt. So does his daughter, Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, who works as a ranger in the forest and whose fiance, Jack, Wes Bentley, has a bright young daughter, Natalie, Oona Lawrence,
For a while, Pete watches the humans and puzzles over what they are doing, since Jack owns a lumber mill and his brother, Gavin, Karl Urban, is cutting down more trees than he should. Eventually, Pete lets himself be found, Grace is all attention, Natalie has climbed a tree with Pete – and fallen down quite a long way – with Pete in hospital but escaping back to the forest.
Of course, there is the question of Elliot. Gavin becomes the baddy and goes to great lengths to capture Elliot and bring him back to the town.
After this, with a lot of effects, Pete and Meacham, who really has seen a dragon in the past, drive to the forest to free Elliot with Gavin, other workers, and the sheriff all in pursuit. It all looks a bit dangerous as Gavin blocks a bridge, Grace and Jack are in danger, and Elliott has to do his Dragon thing.
While Pete’s Dragon is an average kind of film for most audiences, families will probably be glad that it is one that most of them can watch with enjoyment, the children able to identify with both Pete and Natalie – and perhaps wishing they had a dragon friend like Elliot.
Out September 15 2017
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.