While I’m never too sure about what’s lurking in the woods, dragons aren’t the first things that come to mind.
When Pete (Oakes Fegley) was just a small kid, his parents were killed in a tragic car-accident. The only one/thing there to protect and be there for him, actually came in the form of a huge dragon that Pete went on to name “Elliot”. Now, it’s been a couple of years and Pete and Elliot are getting along swimmingly; they love one another so much that they run around the forest together and get in all sorts of wacky and wild hijinx. It’s the kind of relationship every person could ever want in a best friend, and this kid Pete has it with this huge dragon that some townspeople believe in, and others don’t. However, Pete gets spotted one day by a park ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard), who believes that she can provide all of the solace and comfort that Pete needs in a world like this, even if Pete can’t stay away from Elliot, leading to some dangerous results for all parties involved.
It’s a common conception that movies made for families and kids, tend to be quick. The reason for this is because kids are young and because of that, they don’t have the best attention-spans and can’t give a hoot about certain plot intricacies that movies aimed at an older-audience, sometimes like to get bogged down in. This summer has been no exception to that rule and it shows that yes, even if kids do like to have everything at their disposal, come so fast and crazy, doesn’t it also matter that things slow the hell down, too? Well, that’s why a kids movie like Pete’s Dragon exists and proves to the world that not all kids flicks need to be as action-packed and quick as a Fast and Furious movie.
Sometimes, a much slower, more melodic pace is just fine, so long as there is something to focus in on.
Director David Lowery (who may seem like an odd choice, given his directorial debut was the bloody, violent, and very adult Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) knows exactly what he wants to do with this story, but he doesn’t get too carried away on providing all of the high-flying and quick action that you’d come to expect with Disney kids flicks. Instead, he likes to focus on such things like plot, setting, and, well, believe it or not, characters. To Lowery, or so it seems from his two movies, knows a beautiful shot when he sees one, but also knows that what goes into them best is when you have a sense of place, time and character-development, to where you care more about everything that’s going on.
Sure, this may seem like Film-Making 101 here, but you’d be surprised how many films miss this part in the first place – especially kids flicks. Lowery allows for Pete’s Dragon, the movie, to settle in and get its own groove going; we get some wonderful CGI and some nifty running-around sequences, but mostly, Lowery is taking his time, giving us a better chance to get to know what we’re working with here. And it’s why Pete’s Dragon, when the adventure is all said and done, is quite a tear-jerker.
But it’s the right kind that earns the tears, and not some manipulative piece that needs so badly to rip them out of your sockets.
What Pete’s Dragon works best with, is how it gives off this sense of sadness in the air, even when you assume that certain scenes are supposed to be cheerful and relatively crowd-pleasing. There are a lot of scenes involving Pete and Elliot, just alone, by themselves, and clearly in need of something greater than just themselves; Lowery doesn’t hammer us over the head with this idea (just like he doesn’t with the environmental message that pops up every now and then), but he shows it in some honest, telling and heartbreaking ways. It’s very rare that kids movies are as moody as this, but Lowery finds just the right notes to play, at the right times.
Then again, the movie honestly isn’t as downtrodden as I make it sound; there’s a lot of fun to be had with this adventure, these characters, and also this setting, in general. Considering that it’s supposed to be set in the late-70’s/early-80’s, there’s a very Spielberg-y feel to it that doesn’t feel like a rip-off, as much as it feels like a sign-of-the-times; people were a lot sunnier and cheerier then, while also wanting to explore the ever-regions of the forest for something mystical, hell, even magical. The movie wears its nostalgia on its sleeve, but it never overdoes it and can, often times, feel like a movie that could have definitely been made around the same time as E.T.
But I digress.
The later part of Pete’s Dragon is overextended and honestly, the movie may be a tad long by at least 15 minutes, but that’s almost too hard to really be mad about when there’s this much attention to the small stuff that so many other summer blockbusters of this nature and for this audience, seem to forget about. The characters all have their own personalities, but they don’t feel one-note; Karl Urban’s one character may seem like the villain, but as time goes on, we start to see that there’s more shading to him than before, even if he is a tad laughable. Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley and Robert Redford also show up as the adults, too, and they’re all fine, but really, Oona Chaplin and Oakes Fegley are the ones who really put in the best work, seeming like actual kids, and never once precocious. They could have easily been, but nope, just like Stranger Things showed, Pete’s Dragon isn’t a fan of conventions.
Oh, and yeah, Elliot the Dragon is pretty great, too. He’s cuddly, while still dangerous at the same time. Why can’t all dragons be like that?
Consensus: Exciting, grandiose, sweet and emotional, Pete’s Dragon is the right kind of summer blockbuster for kids, even if the summer is winding down and kids do like their movies a whole lot faster.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire