'Pete's Dragon': Film Review

A dismayingly dull reboot of the 1977 Disney film.
8/12/2016

Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford attempt to breathe life into this sluggish reconceptualization of the 1977 Disney film.

In the pantheon of beloved Disney classics, 1977’s Pete’s Dragon would never be mistaken for one of the studio’s crowning achievements.

Overlong and outfitted with a largely forgettable score, the mix of live action and traditional animation might have been aiming to recapture some of that Mary Poppins magic, but it fell considerably short of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

So when the studio announced plans for a reboot, there wasn’t the same outcry from protective fans that initially greeted news of recent remakes of Cinderella and The Jungle Book.

But despite there being ample room for improvement, the extensively reimagined Pete’s Dragon fails to breathe fresh life into the 40-year-old property. Directed and co-written by David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), the notably darker interpretation turns out to be, like the CG creature itself, a moody, lumbering thing that seldom takes flight.

While it could still hold some appeal to families searching for late-summer distractions, the film won’t come close to reaching the high box-office benchmark set by the likes of Finding Dory, Jungle Book and Zootopia.

Relocating the original setting from coastal Maine to the tree-blanketed Pacific Northwest (as played by New Zealand), the new version also dispenses with the old setup, instead placing young Pete (Oakes Fegley) alone in the woods following a tragic car accident that has killed both of his parents.

It turns out he doesn’t have to fend for himself very long, as he’s taken under the wing of a 24-foot, furry (as opposed to scaly), sage-hued dragon he decides to name Elliot, after the dog in one of his favorite books.

Fast-forward six years later. We find the now 10-year-old wild child (paging Mowgli) and his dragon pal still happily ensconced in all that greenery when they’re both discovered by a forest ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her boyfriend’s 11-year-old daughter (Oona Laurence).

One doesn’t need to have seen the 1977 version to know roughly where this is all headed, and that lack of any element of surprise is just one of the problems with the script by Lowery and Toby Halbrooks. Haphazard plotting and seriously undernourished character development aside, none of the emotional stakes have been planted deeply enough to elicit audience involvement in young Pete’s plight.

Meanwhile, Howard (last seen dodging dinos in the far more entertaining Jurassic World) and a supporting cast including Robert Redford as her tale-spinning dad and Wes Bentley as her significant other haven’t been given much to do here beyond reacting to the mighty Elliot, who himself proves to hold all the magical allure of a dusty Disneyland animatronic.

When you factor in the overheated Daniel Hart score that swoops and soars at the slightest provocation, you just might find yourself pining for the simpler, comparatively more melodic charms of Helen Reddy crooning "Candle on the Water."

Distributor: Disney
Production company: Whitaker Entertainment
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban
Director: David Lowery
Screenwriters: David Lowery & Toby Halbrooks
Producer: Jim Whitaker
Executive producer: Barrie M. Osborne
Director of photography: Bojan Bazelli
Production designer: Jade Healy
Costume designer: Amanda Neale
Editor: Lisa Zeno Churgin
Composer: Daniel Hart
Casting director: Debra Zane

Rated PG, 103 minutes

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