by Cassie Ochoa
Time has not caught up with the town of Millhaven. Nothing happens in the town, nor are there any mentions of televisions or cell phones. It’s the perfect idyllic setting for a fairy tale like Pete’s Dragon. The film, which is not a remake, but instead, a “reimagining”, is about Pete (Oakes Fegley) and his dragon, Elliot, who find each other after a car crash claims the lives of Pete’s parents. Six years later, an encroaching lumber company and forest ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), take Pete out of the woods. Pete is desperate to return to Elliot and the home they shared while Gavin (Karl Urban) and the loggers get closer to finding the dragon.
Director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) does a fantastic job with the simple story he had a hand in writing. There’s a lot of heart within the film’s 102 minute runtime with very little padding. The cinematography is gorgeous, helping with the timeless feel of Pete’s Dragon and giving the film this warm glow that permeates the brighter scenes. Even the darker moments are given this storybook-esque style that doesn’t detract from the emotional resonance of the scene. The score by Daniel Hart (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Comet) is a phenomenal return to the grandiose orchestral scores of classic Disney films.
The highlight of the film is definitely Oakes Fegley’s performance as Pete. Already given the difficult task of interacting with a completely CGI character (Elliot), Oakley carries the film for the majority of its runtime. He delivers a fantastic performance, conveying nuances of isolationism with the discovery of the modern world. His relationship with Elliot is a combination of “a boy and his dog” and best friends, something that Oakley communicates with ease. Bryce Dallas Howard as the maternal Grace and Robert Redford as her father also do a fantastic job, fleshing out some slightly two dimensional character types with a lot of the idealism and purity that the film needs from its supporting characters. The antagonists are not given nearly as much depth; however this is not a bad thing, as they are simply humans acting in a realistic manner to a dragon.
With a lot of love and a simple story, Pete’s Dragon is the family film of the summer. While not as iconic with its sense of imagination as the original film, it inspires a pure belief in the unknown and shows that once something can be believed, it can begin to be understood.