Review: It’s not too surprising when Disney decided to give its retro property a remake with CGI treatment. What surprised more is the choice of source material – a musical which blends animation with live action, Pete’s Dragon (1977) – which is considered as a classic flop. Things get more alluring when David Lowery – helmer of cinema poetry, Ain’t Them Bodies Saint – is announced to get into directorial responsibility.
Yet, that’s where the magic begins. When Lowery’s penchant for visual poetry transliterates the bond between orphan boy with a surprisingly furry dragon combined with little family elements, the result is a less-blockbuster summer blockbuster. A visually enchanting classic with heart and magic.
When we begin, the boy, Pete (Oakes Fegley) is on an adventure with his parents while reading “Elliot Got Lost” before a tragic car accident separates them. The baffled Pete runs into the woods only to encounter the magic – a green, furry dragon, with gifts of perfect camouflage – who eventually becomes his friend and protector.
It takes 6 years for the story to progress when Pete meets a forest ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), daughter of a dragon-believer (Robert Redford) and fiancé to Jack (Wes Bentley). Pete’s Dragon swiftly enters its conflict mode when Pete gets exposed into people and Elliot the dragon also gets exposed in act of protecting Pete. It’s the time of trial, whether the bond between the both titular characters is strong enough.
One might say it’s a fluid blend of How to Train Your Dragon, The Jungle Book and Free Willy (or King Kong); that might be true since Pete’s Dragon shares similar elements separately although the source materials might be older than those references.
The story contains abundant genre-clichés, which might alarm adult audiences. However, Lowery and his writer Toby Halbrooks tends to make it simple as it soars high. Family issue and ‘believing in magic’ issue becomes the connector to each storyline, which although falls into familiarities, still has a lot to excite with the heartwarming treatments.
It might be Disney’s and it might be a family ‘studio movie’, but Lowery’s directorial trademark still makes lots of influences. How Lowery fancies natural light and fluorescent illumination – as if he’s been an apprentice of Terrence Malick – adorns most frames with dynamic camera works. VFX powered by Weta digital completes the visual panache with the dragon, which doesn’t look like any dragon you have ever seen but still soars high.
Should the source material be folklore and David Lowery a visual poet, then Pete’s Dragon is a visual poetic fable, adorned with visual panache and heartwarming storytelling.
Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Adventure, Family, Fantasy Directed by: David Lowery Written by: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks based on screenplay by Malcolm Marmorstein Starred by: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley Runtime: 103 mins Rated PG