Movie Review - Pete's Dragon (2016)

Director David Lowery co-wrote this adaptation of the 1977 film of the same name, which is about a boy who befriends a mythical, fire-breathing, chameleon-like, large, flying dragon. It's larger than Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon (2010). Yet, it's not as wise or have the ability to talk like Falkor in The NeverEnding Story (1984), but, comparing the magical creatures from these various movies is rather pointless. The only thing one can do is compare the people, and when it comes to that, there is no comparison. The boy in question here doesn't compare to the boys in How to Train Your Dragon and The NeverEnding Story because the boy here is virtually a blank slate. He's like Mowgli from The Jungle Book or Spot from The Good Dinosaur (2015). He's a young human who behaves like a feral animal, acting mainly on instincts.

Oakes Fegley stars as Pete, the 11-year-old boy in question. He's a slight step above Spot and Mowgli in that he's not totally feral. He didn't befriend the dragon named Elliott until he was five. By that point, he knew how to read and was probably ready for the first grade, but, before he goes to live with Elliott in the woods, there isn't anything to Pete besides his favorite book. You get no real sense of this boy's personality otherwise.

He looks like Jacob Tremblay's character in Room (2015), but that movie did a phenomenal job of establishing Tremblay's character, or giving him a distinct personality. Here, Pete is not distinct. He's a cute boy, but that's about it. Did Pete have a favorite food, while out in the woods, a favorite tree or favorite place to play? Why didn't he take Elliott flying beyond the woods before? He's just a blank slate with nothing interesting to him besides the fact that he managed to survive for years undetected in the woods, but Lowery doesn't show us how.

What's weird is that Pete loses his parents in a car accident in which Pete was in the back-seat. Pete then immediately is taken by Elliott who flies him away. The weird part is that Pete doesn't cry. He doesn't call out for his parents. Pete never again mentions them. It's as if they didn't exist, making the opening and their deaths just a plot contrivance. It also makes the ending a bit hollow. Pete supposedly finds a new family, but his connecting with them feels hollow because he seemingly never deals with the loss of his real family.

Oona Lawrence (Southpaw and Bad Moms) co-stars as Natalie, a similar-age girl who discovers Pete when her father, Jack, played by Wes Bentley, brings her to his work site in the woods where his lumbering company is cutting down forest. She's the one who brings Pete into civilization and becomes a surrogate sister to him.

Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World and The Help) also co-stars as Grace, a park ranger who works along side the lumbering company. She's the girlfriend and possible spouse of Natalie's dad. She immediately becomes a surrogate mom to Pete. When Pete tells her he's befriended a dragon, she doesn't doubt him, only because her father, Mr. Meachum, played by Robert Redford, has spoken about dragons as if they're real.

Karl Urban (Star Trek Beyond and Dredd) plays Gavin, the uncle of Natalie because he's her father's brother. He also works at the lumbering company. It's unclear of what his beliefs are about dragons prior to him seeing Elliott, but he immediately becomes the antagonist and tries to capture Elliott with possible profit motives.

Gavin is the instigator of the third-act action, which goes the way of most movies about children with magical or alien creatures. At one point, I thought the film might go in another direction, the direction of making Elliott this great, scientific discovery, which everyone embraces, but the film doesn't go that direction. It instead goes the direction of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

The difference is that E.T. is from another planet who wants to leave. Here, Elliott, the dragon, is from Earth and lives in the woods not far from humans. It's never overtly stated why scientists and people-at-large shouldn't know about the dragon being real because otherwise it would be a new species. Why is hiding a new species which could revolutionize zoology a goal here? Neither Grace nor her dad answer this question. Keeping Elliott away from world discovery is simply a way to give the third act some action.

Lowery isn't interested in scientific discovery or even understanding the dragon on any level other than emotional. What does it eat? How long has it lived? Where was it born and who raised it? How did the dragon get to be all by itself? Lowery isn't interested in such questions. He simply wants to use the dragon as a metaphor but not a very deep one. Lowery doesn't even present the dilemma in Free Willy (1993) of the dragon being endangered by deforestation or human encroachment. So, why should I even care about it?

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for action and peril.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.


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