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Pete's Dragon (2016) - Review

Pete's Dragon

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JUST as he beguiled with his debut feature Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, so David Lowery now enchants with his take on Disney’s Pete’s Dragon.

A remake of the part animated 1977 film of the same name, this completely live action version re-imagines the story and emerges as a film capable of captivating both children and adults alike.

There’s a playfulness that’s infectious as well as an emotional connection that’s as uplifting as it can be heart-breaking.

The story picks up as young two-year-old Pete (Oakes Fegley) is orphaned in a car crash with his parents and left alone in the woods, where he immediately befriends a dragon he names Elliott.

Six years later, Pete is found by kindly park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) and taken into her family, leaving Elliott to search for his friend while evading the attention of some loggers led by Grace’s husband’s brother (Karl Urban).

But as Pete begins to adjust to life without Elliott, matters come to a head once the dragon becomes captured.

Just as he did with the aforementioned Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Lowery uses Pete’s Dragon to explore themes of loss, distance and faith. Yet while his first film adopted something of an early Terrence Malick approach, this combines traces of that with Disney sensibilities.

Hence, while some of the script can be heavy-handed in terms of underlining the importance of family and belief, Lowery coaxes such fine performances from his cast that you’ll feel your emotions are earned rather than manipulated.

And there are several scenes that truly resonate – not least those between Pete and Elliott, but also a bonding session between Pete and Grace, as well as a couple of the scenes between Grace and her dad (played by Robert Redford).

Fegley is particularly memorable in the lead role of Pete, combining a fierce resolve with an inquisitive nature, as well as an inner vulnerability to offset the outward bravery. He is another child star to watch.

Howard also excels as the sensitive Grace, while Redford oozes charm and a bittersweet sense of nostalgia as her dad. The effects surrounding Elliott are also first-rate, imbuing the dragon with a lot of heart and – when needed – power. He’s an easy dragon to fall in love with.

If Urban’s token villain is a little under-written and Wes Bentley’s brother is given next to nothing to do, such shortcomings can be overlooked given the overall strength of the material.

In short, Pete’s Dragon offers enough magic to keep the kids enthralled as well as a humanity to appeal to us all. It’s a fantastically engaging film.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 2hrs
UK Release Date: August 12, 2016