Earlier this year, Disney had massive success with an updated version of their classic animated feature “The Jungle Book,” a version of the tale that skillfully integrated a child actor with astonishing visuals to deliver a thrilling and heartwarming film. With such an achievement under their belts, it comes as no surprise that they’d want to delve into their massive catalogue once again to update an older children’s film, though I’m not sure anyone would particularly call their next selection a “classic.” 1977’s “Pete’s Dragon” is not regarded all that well today, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement nearly 40 years later. I certainly wouldn’t put it past Disney to have the ability to take a forgotten kids’ flick and turn it into something magical for modern audiences, and so, with a great sense of optimism, let’s dive into their latest reimagining.
The film begins with a young boy named Pete going on a trip with his parents. Sadly, there is an accident along the way that leaves the parents dead and Pete all alone. He wanders into the surrounding woods and is saved from wolves by a large, green dragon that becomes his best friend. Six years later, Pete (Oakes Fegley) and Elliot, as the boy calls the dragon, are living happily together in the woods, that is, until they notice that loggers are tearing down several trees. While visiting her husband, a forest ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), brings along her daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence), who wanders off into the woods when she notices Pete watching the activity. This also brings Grace into the woods, eventually putting her face-to-face with Pete.
After Pete is accidentally knocked unconscious while trying to escape, he awakens in a hospital, and after a brief escape attempt, Grace brings him to her home. Having grown up in the woods, Pete is not used to anything in the world outside of his home, so his transition is a little difficult at first, but with Grace and Natalie’s help, he begins to settle down. Pete brings his new friends back to his home the next day to see Elliot, but little do they know that one of the loggers (Karl Urban) has come back to the woods to hunt the dragon down after a frightful encounter he and his buddies had recently. Now it’s up to Pete and his friends to save Elliot and get him safely back to where he belongs.
“Pete’s Dragon” is a very simple, straightforward children’s film that may seem deceptively plain at first, but it’s one of those films that kind of grows on you as you watch it. Sure, there’s not that much in the way of plotting, but what they do give you is more than enough for the characters to take over the story and let you just go with the flow. It certainly helps that the characters are easy enough to get engaged with, especially with the tragic loss that Pete goes through at the beginning of the film.
There’s also the fact that his best friend is an enormous, green dragon, brought to life through some pretty good CGI work. This may not be the typical depiction of dragons that we’re used to seeing in various fantasy works (“Game of Thrones,” “The Hobbit,” etc.), but you have to remember that you’re watching a film that was made primarily for a younger audience, so the dragon is going to have to be a little more kid-friendly. This is why we get a more loveable version of the beast that’s covered in green fur, and of course, much more gentle than your average fire-breathing creature. As a character, he’s just as easy to like as the rest of our heroes, if not more so, which is saying quite a lot when applied to this kind of protagonist.
Indeed, the story may not be particularly extravagant, but “Pete’s Dragon” is a charming, fast-paced, and delightful film nonetheless, bolstered by a great cast that includes Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Robert Redford, and younger actors Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence. When it comes to it, you just can’t help but root for the good guys to thwart the bad guys and rescue Elliot from their clutches. In the standard Disney tradition, this is simply a film that the entire family can enjoy together, which is something that’s always to be commended.
“Pete’s Dragon” comes to Blu-ray in a dazzling 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. In typical Disney fashion, the picture is remarkably sharp and clear, showing off the film’s vibrant colors and extensive CGI work. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is on the same level, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in excellent quality. Overall, this is another stunning release from the studio that leaves you with an unbeatable experience.
Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer David Lowery, Co-Writer Toby Halbrooks, and Actors Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence: A commentary track that would have been better without the kid actors’ involvement, but at least you get a few interesting tidbits along the way.
Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary (8 Minutes): Snippets from director David Lowery’s diary in which he tells of his experience making the film. Includes lots of behind the scenes footage.
Making Magic (2 Minutes): A very brief featurette that discusses Elliot and how he was brought to life.
“Disappearing” Moments (9 Minutes): A montage of deleted, alternate, and extended scenes.
Welcome to New Zealand (2 Minutes): A brief featurette that has the director and others discussing filming the movie in New Zealand.
Bloopers (1 Minute): A quick collection of goofy outtakes.
“Nobody Knows” and “Something Wild” Music Videos
Thanks to its charming story and engaging characters, “Pete’s Dragon” is a delightful, fast-paced, and sweet film that the entire family can enjoy together. It may have a rather basic plot, but it more than makes up for it with its loveable heroes that you can’t help but root for throughout the seemingly-brief 103-minute runtime. In the end, it represents another updated success for Disney and will more than likely leave you hoping that they’ll pull yet another one out of their hat as soon as possible.