A forest ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds a young boy living in the woods (Oakes Fegley), who has a secret friend: a dragon named Elliot. Also stars Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Oona Laurence, and Robert Redford.
Directed by David Lowery
As an admitted fan of the original Pete’s Dragon, I was leery at the attempt by Disney to remake what I considered a classic from my childhood. After re-watching the original recently for the first time in over 20 years, I came away with two realizations. One, most of the songs are better than I remember. Second, the film doesn’t age as well as I might have hoped.
Even so, the 1977 version of Pete’s Dragon was an inventive, original musical that mixed live action with traditional Disney animation. Elliot the Dragon (voiced by the great Charlie Callas) was an endearing and fantastic character, and even though the film is not considered a classic, it still has a loyal fan following.
Pete Lowery, director of the indie hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, might have been a risky choice to helm the big-budget remake of Pete’s Dragon, but his fresh approach works in the film’s favor. This new version of Pete’s Dragon is not a musical, but instead, it is a fantasy film aimed squarely at children.
Rather than get lost in the lure of CGI, Lowery crafts an intimate tale with plenty of heart. The film never gets too serious, and while the introduction of Elliot may be scary for young children, his character has a dog-like soul that will win over young viewers.
The film is anchored by child actors Oakes Fegley (Pete) and Oona Laurence (Natalie), who almost single-handedly propel the narrative. Their earnest performances make the film work, and they hold their own with a fantastic supporting cast.
Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban, and Wes Bentley make for a great cast, but they seem wholly underutilized. They mostly end up reacting to Elliot and the kids, and you wonder why they weren’t given more to work with. Howard fares the best out of the group, as her connection with young Fegley works well. Redford, Urban, and Bentley all get at least one scene to chew up, but their characters needed more development.
Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon manages to escape the remake trap by not trying to ape every aspect of the original. In fact, very little is brought over. It isn’t a musical, it isn’t set in the 1800s, and it isn’t a comedy. The only thing that carries over is a very basic premise (an orphan boy and his dragon friend) and the title. By doing so, Pete’s Dragon feels a little like Where the Wild Things Are. It’s pure fantasy wrapped inside a sentimental friendship tale. The storybook feel likely owes some of its tone to producer Barrie Osborne (Lord of the Rings), but this is primarily the vision of Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks.
Pete’s Dragon is an entertaining and pleasant surprise. The acting is solid, the cinematography by Bojan Bazelli is fantastic, and the story will appeal to both children and adults. It’s fun and heartfelt, with a stirring ending that will leave a smile on your face. It’s a great family film that stands apart and soars above.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Pete’s Dragon has a look that will remind you of many fantasy films. That should come as no surprise, as the movie was filmed in New Zealand, home of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The forest scenes in particular features a dark, otherworldly feel with lots of smoke and mist. That sort of imagery would pose a challenge to lesser video transfers, but Pete’s Dragon sports a superb video transfer with a high bitrate, so there is no pixelation or shimmers in the image. Blacks are inky, with excellent rendering of grays.
The audio is a 7.1 DTS-HDMA soundtrack, with excellent low end and a wide range that makes full use of the score and dialogue. Clarity is sharp and the multi-channel surround effect is impressive.
The Blu-ray features a nice selection of extras, which are also available on Disney Movies Anywhere. They include:
“Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary” featurette. Director David Lowery reads excerpts from his production diary, set to behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. It’s a nice look inside the director’s mind. Running time: 7:31
“Making Magic” featurette. The visual effects that brought Elliot to life are highlighted here. Running time: 2:12
“Disappearing Moments” featurette. This montage of deleted scenes (or “lost” scenes, as the disc calls them) is nicely done. I much prefer to see deleted scenes in one reel than have to select each one from a menu. Running time: 9:12
Bloopers. What do you want me to say? They’re bloopers. They’re hilarious. You know you're going to love seeing them! Running time: 1:28
Music Videos. Two music videos, “Nobody Knows” by The Lumineers and “Something Wild” by Lindsey Stirling and featuring Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness, are included. Running time: 3:12 and 3:45, respectively.
“Welcome to New Zealand” featurette. The country of New Zealand, where the movie was filmed, is profiled. Running time: 1:58
Audio Commentary. Director/co-writer David Lowery, co-writer Toby Halbrooks, actor Oakes Fegley (Pete), and actress Oona Laurence (Natalie) all take part in the commentary, and it’s great fun to listen to. The young actors are talkative, and Lowery sounds like a big kid himself. He keeps the conversation lively.
Digital Copy. A digital version of the film compatible with Disney Movies Anywhere, Ultraviolet, and iTunes, is included.
THE BOTTOM LINE: PETE’S DRAGON IS ENCHANTING FUN
David Lowery has crafted a rare remake that surpasses the original. Pete’s Dragon is an enchanting viewing experience that children’s films rarely deliver any more.
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Running Time: 103 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish
Special Features: “Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary” featurette; “Making Magic” featurette; “Disappearing Moments” featurette; Bloopers; Two Music Videos; “Welcome to New Zealand” featurette; Digital Copy.
Audio Commentary: Participants include director David Lowery, writer Toby Halbrooks, actor Oakes Fegley, and actress Oona Laurence.
Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
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