Pete's Dragon (2016) (Review)

Closing out their record-breaking summer slate, Disney - with the latest live-action reimagining - elect to go with a somewhat quieter and gentler film to wave goodbye with. Following the likes of Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, Alice Through The Looking Glass and Finding Dory, David Lowrey's Pete's Dragon definitely flies more under the radar in terms of scale, budget and perhaps marketing but manages to feel quintessentially Disney in its execution, themes and quality, with another solid gem in their crown.

Following a roadside accident, Pete disappears into the woods and makes a new friend, Elliot, a dragon. Six years later, Pete (Oakes Fegley) is discovered by Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard), a forest ranger, and her family, including her Dad (Robert Redford), her boyfriend (Wes Bentley), her boyfriend's brother (Karl Urban) and her daughter (Oona Laurence). When Elliot is then discovered too, the question of what do with this information changes everything, and reminds of the importance of friends and family. Unlike the original, the musical element is removed and acts as a straightforward dramatic family adventure.

Pete's Dragon is as warm as they come. It presents a story that is filled with so much warmth, charm and emotion, feeling very hand-crafted and lovingly made by all involved. Portraying themes of human relationships and family, and loving and letting go, it feels very sincere in its approach and exploration of these themes, occurring naturally rather than feeling forced. It moves at a very steady pace throughout, building on characters and relationships with care and ensuring we understand them. Each of the characters almost encompass their own teachable themes, with Pete and Elliot's unique friendship demonstrating the differences between people and how they should be celebrated, with Grace portraying the unconditional love of a mother, defined by her selflessness and care. Even Gavin teaches of change and acceptance, and all feel important in conveying the themes the film offers in abundance.

All round, the acting is solid, with Dallas Howard being the particular standout as Grace. While not quite on the same level as The Jungle Book, it is also magnificent to see Oakes Fegley interact with the CGI Pete with such detail, and he demonstrates quite the talent and skill to be able to do this. He is definitely one to look out for in the future. Their relationship and interaction is stunning to watch which is helped by the seamlessness of the animation. It features a number of stunning landscapes and green colour palettes that enhance the beauty of the film and the soaring shots open the film to the world of Pete as he roams the skies, further captivated by the lens flares that give the film some further beauty.

Predictability is usually deemed a negative but doesn't always have to be with family-friendly adventures such as this. It does, however, seem to hold Pete's Dragon back as it doesn't always feel as inspired as it should or could be. Apart from the final ten minutes, which really up the emotional ante, it remains a little monotonous throughout, failing to step outside of the 'lovely' and 'gentle' tone that stays throughout it, feeling sometimes repetitive and occasionally failing to engage. In that way, its gentle and lovely to a fault, doing the simple things well but never pushing itself far enough, making it a very, very pleasant watch indeed but without the usually Disney ability to encourage you rush back to see it again. It's a recommend watch for sure, but not one that will stay with you as long as other family-friendly offerings this summer.

Pete's Dragon may be a smaller budgeted Disney film, particularly following their bigger hits earlier this summer, but it still contains the warmth, love, emotion and charm associated with them and is a worthwhile entry into their live-action reimaginings. It may not be as inspiring as most, and feel a little monotonous in places, but all can be forgiven for the otherwise heart-warming story about family and love, letting go and being free. 


Summary: Pete's Dragon is a lovingly-crafted and pleasant Disney film on a small scale, with more than its fair share of warmth, emotion and charm, but it lacks the usually inspiration behind Disney's other hits.

Highlight: The final ten minutes are incredibly emotional and moving filmmaking. You can tell that this film has been so lovingly craft with care and attention.