A heartwarming family adventure fantasy, David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon takes some characters and situations from Disney’s own 1977 musical fantasy and fashions a new story more in tune with 21st century sensibilities.
The Production: 3.5/5
A heartwarming family adventure fantasy, David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon takes some characters and situations from Disney’s own 1977 musical fantasy and fashions a new story more in tune with 21st century sensibilities. It’s a beautifully produced and wonderfully acted romp, more dramatic and less prone to slapstick than the earlier tale and with a winning though restrained use of sentimentality earning the film a deserved payoff at the end.
Orphaned four-year old Pete (Levi Alexander) wanders into the Oregon woods after the automobile death of his parents only to be taken up by a furry green dragon he names “Elliot” based on a character in a book he was learning to read. Six years later, wild child Pete (now played by Oakes Fegley) and Elliot get along beautifully in the deep woods outside Millhaven. Foresters led by Gavin (Karl Urban) cutting deeply into the forest find Pete when he’s startled and falls from a tree, and he’s taken to the hospital much to Elliot’s dismay. Park Ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), her husband Jack (Wes Bentley), and their daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) take a special interest in the orphan boy, and his descriptions of his friend Elliot, combined with sights Gavin swears he glimpsed in the woods and stories Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) used to tell about the Millhaven dragon have the entire town believing there is a dragon deep in the woods, one they’re determined to find.
Director David Lowery has written the screenplay with Toby Halbrooks, and while their tale is a fairly predictable one with an innocent creature being hunted by segments of humanity determined to capture and exploit it (giving the rest of humanity a bad name with their proprietary and somewhat unfeeling natures), they manage to not turn their story into quite as bloodthirsty a quest as might be expected. They also manage to stress the more human and humane aspects of the Pete-Elliot relationship that gives the audience a vivid rooting interest to see the devoted twosome somehow manage to reunite despite others’ efforts to the contrary. With today’s vastly sophisticated CG magicians, Elliot can come to such believable life that he takes on many “human” aspects which we can read into his behaviors (for example, his spying on the family reading Pete a bedtime story letting him know his charge is in safe hands can be programmed into the character’s creation so that emotions flicker across his face as they can do across the faces of the very best actors). This is such an improvement over the 1977 hand drawn animated dragon that makes this rendition much more emotionally present and more captivatingly alive. And, of course, additional special effects wizardry takes us on exhilarating flights with Elliot through the skies and makes the climactic showdown with his would-be captors on a bridge, nicely directed by David Lowery, daring and suspenseful.
Both young actors Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence are expressively appealing without overdoing either the brattiness or the preciousness inherent in their ages, and we continually cheer their spiritedness throughout the movie. Bryce Dallas Howard is a warm, loving presence as the mother, and Robert Redford as her wry father brings a twinkly sense of humor to the proceedings. Karl Urban serves as the primary antagonist without ever going so far as to be a total villain, out to capture Elliot but without bloodshed. Wes Bentley is quietly sensible as the father.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced using the AVC codec in this 1080p transfer. Filmed in New Zealand substituting for Oregon, the greens of the forest are simply gorgeous in Bojan Bazelli’s masterful cinematography with other colors vivid or subdued as needed and skin tones always realistic. Sharpness is exemplary with the CG work on Elliot’s fur making it seem completely realistic in texture and thickness. Contrast has been admirably applied for a consistent visual experience, and black levels are superb. The movie has been divided into 16 chapters.
The movie was shown in theaters in a 3D version which unfortunately has not been announced for American home video. A 3D version would certainly expand on the boundless expanses and depths of those forests where Elliot and Pete live and play.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix is reference quality all the way with traces of directionalized dialogue offering some dimensional expanse on the mostly center channel-focused verbiage. Several soundtrack songs and Daniel Hart’s sentimental background score get great spread through the fronts and rears. Atmospheric effects likewise get superb placement throughout the soundstage (an early encounter Pete has with a pack of wolves places the listener in the forest with him with wolves closing in for a strike).
Special Features: 3/5
Audio Commentary: writer-director David Lowery, his writing partner Toby Halbrooks, and young stars Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence have a fun experience watching the movie and commenting on memories of its making.
Notes To Self: A Director’s Diary (7:31, HD): director David Lowery notes special moments in the five-month shoot in New Zealand as we see behind-the-scenes shots of the movie being produced.
Making Magic (2:12, HD): voiceover comments by actors Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley, and Oona Laurence along with director David Lowery enhance behind the scenes shots of the actors performing with various kinds of stand-ins for Elliot.
“Disappearing” Moments (9:12, HD): director David Lowery presents a montage of various deleted, alternate, or extended scenes from the movie.
Bloopers (1:29, HD)
“Nobody Knows” Music Video (3:12, HD): performed by The Lumineers
“Something Wild” Music Video (3:45, HD): performed by Lindsey Stirling and Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
Welcome to New Zealand (1:56, HD): director David Lowery and actress Bryce Dallas Howard express the beauties of the area and explain why it was used for filming.
Promo Trailer (HD): Beauty and the Beast
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
Pete’s Dragon is a welcome reimagining of the earlier Disney fantasy offering excellent performances and some breathtaking cinematography to enhance the heartwarming storytelling. Video and audio are reference quality missing only the 3D element which would have made for a perfect home video release. Nevertheless, families should really enjoy this.