Directed by David Lowery
Starring Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford
Released August 12th, 2016
Do you believe in dragons? Meacham (Robert Redford) does. When he was a boy he was confronted deep in the woods by a fire-breathing dragon, narrowly escaping with his life. At least, that’s the story he’s been telling for more than sixty years.
Meacham’s daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a forest ranger, working in the same woods that her father explored when he was her age. Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, she doesn’t believe in dragons, though she can recite the old folklore song everyone in town sings. Something along the lines of “LOOK TO THE NORTH, THERE BE DRAGONS, FIRE UP YOUR S’MORES AND YOUR WAGONS.” I think that’s how it goes, I’m not sure. I didn’t grow up in that town.
Yes, this is a remake of a fun Disney musical from 1977. This film, set in the early 1980s, is anything but fun. It’s slow, sad, and morose.
Grace is probably going to get married to the owner of the lumber mill, Jack (Wes Bentley), whose daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) happens to come across a young boy alone in the forest. Bringing him home, Jack, Natalie, and Grace discover that this boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) has been on his own in the forest for the last six years. Except Pete maintains he wasn’t alone; he has been with his pal and protector Elliot.
When Pete tells the grown-ups that Elliot is a giant green dragon, everyone assumes he he’s making up an imaginary friend. Everyone except Mr. Meacham, whom you’ll remember, saw a dragon when he was a kid. Maybe even the same dragon.
Elliot the dragon can breathe fire, fly, and turn invisible, but he can’t talk. Because a talking dragon would be unbelievable. He speaks with grunts and low moans, not unlike a dog with asthma. Elliot is the product of some pretty poor special effects. I’m not saying I prefer the traditionally animated dragon from 1977, but this is some Dragonheart level CGI.
Yes, this is a remake of a fun Disney musical from 1977. This film, set in the early 1980s, is anything but fun. It’s slow, sad, and morose. In the original film, the invisible dragon caused all sorts of comedic problems for Pete. David Lowery’s remake has no time for comedy. The director of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is an odd choice to helm a Disney property and he has made a dour, overly serious family film.
As Pete, Oakes Fegley is a tree climbing Tarzan-child who looks like a live action version of Spot from Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur. He’s playing his emotions to the hilt in every scene, whether screaming, crying, or laughing. Who am I kidding? He doesn’t laugh.
Robert Redford plays his part with a gleam in his eye and Bryce Dallas Howard proves once again (between this and her work in Jurassic World) that she is a pro at reacting off of tennis balls on sticks, but good performances can’t save this film from being an overwrought slog.
I would suggest watching the original Pete’s Dragon if you’d like to have a Brazzle Dazzle Day.