After the surprising joys of last year’s ‘Cinderella’ and this years ‘The Jungle Book’, it seems that Disney has earnt itself some trust in their upcoming slate of live-action remakes. Which made it all the more trepidatious that their next adaptation was from a less well-loved Film in their back catalogue, 1977’s Pete’s Dragon, which I confess I haven’t seen.
But the potential risk has paid off, the new Pete’s Dragon is great. It’s warm and charming, a folk tale mixed with 80’s era Spielberg (That’s a 2016 theme for sure) and a strong batch of performances that don’t outweigh the Film itself.
For me, the charm comes from it folkiness. The music especially, gems like So Long, Marianne touch on my specific sensibilities and the warm cinematography and autumnal feel of a breezy middle America connect with my love for all things Americana.
As the Film gets into its plot, which takes a gentle stroll through its act structure, these elements do take up less time but the character work and performances see it through.
Bryce Dallas Howard is a delight, her charm comes from her relatability, she feels like someone you could know and not a Hollywood star in a Hollywood Film.
Our child actor, Oakes Fegley as Pete does a good job in a year dominated by stellar child actors (Stranger Things, The Jungle Book) and his friendship with Elliot is the heart of the Film. Elliot is a wonderfully realised CG creation, his personality feels real and down to earth, which, for a non-speaking yet intelligent animal is a wonder.
Robert Redford, Wes Bentley and Karl Urban fill out the other roles with efficiency and it’s their matching charismas which flesh out the small town world. However, It’s the two human leads and the CGI Dragon who steal the Film and the developing relationship between Pete and Grace is sweet whilst you feel affection towards Elliot as you would a pet.
Compared to the admittedly awful 1977 version, this is a triumph, though it’s final act never exists in the same realm I wished it to be in from the start. The joys lie in its beautiful score and folky aesthetic and whilst you maybe don’t care enough for the people, you will be wowed by the charm and the style that’s afforded to it by Director David Lowery.
Overall, it’s another in a line of strong, almost excellent Films that I’ve seen as the blockbuster season has petered out after the disappointment of Suicide Squad. It’s warm and gracious, with a simple rewatchable charm.