Did you know that Hollywood occasionally remakes films? If you have been close paying attention, you might have heard someone complain about it on the internet or something like that. What you won’t hear them admit is that sometimes a remake makes perfect sense.
If you haven’t seen the original Pete’s Dragon since you were seven years old, then there is a chance you still view it as a classic. However – and I apologise for ruining your perception – you’re wrong. It’s a bit rubbish all things said and in the hundreds of films that have been released under the Disney banner it hardly even deserves a mention. In other words, it’s a movie rife for being reimagined in 2016.
And reimagined it has been, gone are the songs and along with them most of the plot. In fact, if you changed the names of Pete and Elliot the dragon you probably wouldn’t even make the connection between the films. In this one, Pete is an orphan, left stranded on the edge of a forest after a car crash that kills his parents. Thankfully, he bumps into our friendly green dragon. Six years later, he is living feral in the woods until a meeting with forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) drags him back into the real world and Elliot into danger.
It’s hard to talk about Pete’s Dragon without constantly going back to the word lovely, because that’s what this is, a lovely film. The plot will be familiar to anyone who has ever dipped their toe into Spielberg classics like ET, and there is a little bit of that Amblin magic here. Karl Urban’s Gavin wants to capture Elliot (for reasons that he isn’t sure about but he reckons it will mean money) while Pete, and Grace’s adopted daughter Natalie, want to stop him.
It is also the third film this year to see a young child put in a very impressive performance alongside a CGI creation. Oakes Fegley’s performance as Pete allows you to believe that Elliot is real, and there is genuine warmth in that relationship. It’s a warmth that is aided by the decision to make Elliot essentially a large flying dog. His facial expressions and actions – at one point chasing his tail – will bring a smile to anyone with a fluffy friend and it makes him easier to fall in love with. The animation is also spectacular. While obviously a lot smaller budget than something like the CGI-heavy Warcraft there is still a feeling that Elliot is a real thing. Trees and bushes are beaten aside and react to his passing, and it gives him a weight that is often lacking in CGI creatures.
The children aren’t the only ones to look good here and both Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford show a little bit of belief in magic. Redford, in particular, is all twinkly eyes as Grace’s father who has been claiming for years that a dragon lives in the local woods to the embarrassment of his daughter.
Pete’s Dragon is why remakes can work. It takes a dated and pretty crap film and breathes life into it. While this is unlikely to enter that upper bracket of children’s films that things like ET sit happily in, there is more than enough here to ensure that this will be a much-loved film by both parents and children for years to come.