UK Release Date: 12th August 2016
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks
Starring: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Robert Redford, Oona Laurence
Synopsis: A feral young boy is recovered from the jungle and soon introduces the locals to his friend in the forest, who just happens to be an enormous, fluffy green dragon.
Disney is currently in the process of crafting live action remakes of many of its most beloved animated classics, but it’s also mining lesser properties such as The BFG. The latest of these films to come out of the blocks is Pete’s Dragon, which takes a movie that almost no one remembers and turns it into a new film that everyone is destined to forget. Despite a strong cast and a pleasant tone, it can’t find the modicum of edge that it needs to become something special for a family audience.
Pete (Oakes Fegley) is orphaned in the forest when his parents die in a car accident. Lost in the trees, he befriends a green, fluffy dragon who takes him as a friend. Years later, Pete is discovered by forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) and taken in by her and her husband Jack (Wes Bentley). When Pete tells stories about the very real dragon who helped him to live in the woods, the news delights Grace’s father Mr Meacham (Robert Redford), who has been telling stories about dragons in the forest for years. Meanwhile, Gavin (Karl Urban) is keen to hand the dragon over to the authorities in exchange for fame and cash.
Disney has worked hard in recent years to create new successes from its previous hits. For the most part, they have done a solid job. Pete’s Dragon, however, is a dismally bland misstep. It’s not necessarily a terrible movie and it is largely inoffensive fluff, but it totally fails to make any sort of creative impact. This is Disney on autopilot, sleepwalking their way through an adventure narrative that rushes through various cliché-ridden emotional scenes and thinly sketched characters in search of a meaning it is never able to find.
Newcomer Oakes Fegley turns in a really impressive performance as the eponymous youngster and forms a genuinely touching relationship with fellow child actor Oona Laurence. Unfortunately, the adult cast members fare much worse, with Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford drifting into a “nice adult” comfort zone that prevents their characters ever having any depth. In fact, they both spend most of the second half of the movie gazing in wonderment at the unconvincing CGI dragon, in absence of anything approaching a story arc. Karl Urban gets more to do, but his scenery-chewing villain is never interesting enough to carry the movie’s sense of jeopardy.
Director David Lowery, best known for Sundance hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, is unable to carve out a unique take on the story. He does a solid job of telling the conventional story in a warm, sun-baked style, helped by the palpably natural setting of the woodland town. There’s nothing interesting or unusual about his approach, though, and this ensures that Pete’s Dragon never rises above the minimum of what it could be.
The entire thing simply feels like a lazy reworking of a story that never needed to be reworked. Pete’s Dragon is a property that no one really loves and, as a result, it wasn’t as if people were clamouring for a new take on the material. This feels like a functional and unremarkable stopgap from Disney simply intended to fill a gap in the schedule towards the tail end of the summer.
Pop or Poop?
Whilst it isn’t a terrible flop in any sense of the phrase, Pete’s Dragon is simply a slice of unimpressive fluff. It’s not hurting anybody but, at a time when child-focused movies are as complex and intelligent as Zootropolis or Inside Out, there’s a sense that studios should be trying a little harder with their family fare. This dragon never breathes fire; it just splutters a bit of smoke.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.