Directed by David Lowery
Starring Oakes Fergley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban, Robert Redford.
The 1977 version of Pete’s Dragon may not be as well known as many of its stable mates, but with a cast of luminaries (including Mickey Rooney) it does have its charms. Which makes it something of a surprise for Disney to revisit hat well, and create a whole new version for a new generation.
When a boy (Oakes Fergley) is orphaned in a terrible accident, he is adopted by a magical creature. Years later logging starts to encroach on the dragon’s woodland home, and young Pete is discovered by a rural family. Bereft of his charge, Elliot the dragon hunts for Pete, all the while being pursued himself by a group of lumberjacks (lead by the always excellent Karl Urban) that seek to capture him and prove to the world that such a creature really exists.
There are certainly some differences here to the original film, beyond the forest setting. The tone of this version is tied into American folk lore, sharing its roots with Bigfoot, or Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox. This film is a tall tale come to life, drawing upon the myth and mysticism that mankind has associated with nature for as long as we have told stories. It is this milieu that we are told a tale of heroism, adventure, magic and above all – family.
Pete’s Dragon may take it’s time getting to its story but if you can buy its folksy charm, this tale of a small town brush with the fantastical, really lands its emotional beats. By the end of the film there is hardly a dry eye left in the house, as it tugs solidly at the heartstrings.
Credit must go to the cast. Robert Redford especially, as he has that combination of charisma and gravitas that allows him to sell anything. Hence much of the exposition of the dragon mythos rests upon his shoulders. It’s a minor but significant role that sets the tone. Oakes Fergley, never has you doubting his wild boy Peter for a moment, bringing to the role a maturity beyond his years. His interaction with the CG of Elliot, goes a long way to making a 40 foot long fur covered green dragon believable. He’s also the emotional heart of this film, torn between his relationship with Elliot and the love of a new found family.
If you can relax into its gentle storytelling Pete’s Dragon can bring moments of wonder and magic.