As a D23 member (the official Disney Fan Club), I was offered the privilege of obtaining two tickets to an advanced screening of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon on Thursday, August 11th ~ the day before the movie’s official release. This has been one of those films I have waited for with anticipation, knowing I had adored the 1977 original and being very curious where Disney was going to take the story this time.
Recap of the Original:
The 1977 version of Pete’s Dragon tells the tale of an orphaned boy who runs away from his adoptive family, a group of brutal misfits (the Gogans) only holding on to the nine year old for the money and slave labor. Pete’s only support system through all that is his fun-loving best friend, a cartoon dragon named Elliot. After escaping the Gogans’ clutches one more time, Pete makes his way to Passamaquoddy, Maine, where Elliot’s enormity creates a sense of mischief within the town, quickly making Pete (the only one the townspeople can see) a “jinx” of sorts. Pete wins the hearts of Nora, a lighthouse keeper, and her father, Lampie, and, over time, finds himself a new home and family, one he can trust and count on down the road. This version was designed to entertain and has a musical score that has had its audience singing along for years. When we watched it with our boys the other night, I found myself remembering every tune (the words ~ not so much). I even have vivid memories of watching it as a fifth grader in the gymnasium / auditorium of my elementary school back in Connecticut just as summer vacation was approaching.
The New Movie:
For those of you who cherish the 1977 classic, you cannot enter the theater to see the 2016 version of Pete’s Dragon and expect to be skipping the streets of Passamaquoddy or singing along to the amazing score that included such songs as “Candle on the Water” or “I Saw a Dragon.” Rather, this reimagination (a term used quite often these days to describe Disney’s new batch of retelling of tales) takes on a more heartfelt journey. One has to enter the theater knowing the story is about a boy and his best friend, a dragon. From there, you need to let the new story line take you on this very fresh , very charming adventure.
Early on in the film, a small four or five year old boy is orphaned through a tragic accident while on a road trip with his family. Immediately following the incident, a tiny Pete (played by Oakes Fegley) picks up his backpack and begins to wander the ominous woods. Within a very short period of time, he is surrounded by wolves and full of fear, only to be saved from the precarious situation by an enormous dragon. Once safe from the wolves, the victim and his savior make eye contact, stare each other down for a few moments and a lifelong friendship and bond are born. One cannot help, but to fall in love with this selfless creature, whose eyes are endearing, heart pure and love unconditional and true. One cannot help, but to crave the kind of magnetic and magical connection these two lonely lost souls seem to have found in each other.
It takes several years before Pete is found by a young girl, Natalie (played by Oona Laurence), her father, Jack (played by Wes Bently), the forest ranger, Grace ( played by Bryce Dallas Howard), and many members of a small town from just down the mountain. After being spotted, a playful chase ensues, but ends with a fall, knocking the boy unconscious. Pete is brought into town for care and his entire existence becomes the subject of an inquiry. He tries to escape several times, but Grace’s determination to help him wins him over and he cautiously allows someone else into his heart and life. When Pete begins to speak of his best friend, who just happens to be a dragon, there is obvious skepticism from some and sparked curiosity from others as they had been told tales of a dragon over the years by the old wood carver, Mr. Meacham (played by Robert Redford).
“For years, old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) has delighted local children with his tales of the fierce dragon that resides deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. To his daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who works as a forest ranger, these stories are little more than tall tales… until she meets Pete (Oakes Fegley). Pete is a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home, who claims to live in the woods with a giant, green dragon named Elliot. And from Pete’s descriptions, Elliot seems remarkably similar to the dragon from Mr. Meacham’s stories. With the help of Natalie (Oona Laurence), an 11-year-old girl whose father, Jack (Wes Bentley), owns the local lumber mill, Grace sets out to determine where Pete came from, where he belongs, and the truth about this dragon.” (Taken from D23 site)
In the end, the true love Elliot has for Pete shines through. I won’t give away the details here…that is something you need to see for yourself, but know that the ending is not as predictable as you may think. I will admit, I walked out having shed a few tears before the credits were rolling.
My Personal Take:
What I liked: First and foremost, I absolutely loved Elliot! Point blank – he is the epitome of a best friend, unconditional love and safety net. They did a fantastic job on creating this lovable, compassionate, nurturing and trustworthy dragon in both character and animation. I found myself captivated by the faith and trust Pete had in Elliot and wondered why it is that these kinds of friendships are so hard to find in real life.
I also liked that the modern tale takes place in the Pacific Northwest, rather than in New England. It may not have been a complete opposite set change, but I honestly cannot see this story having been told with an urban backdrop (though I likely just inspired someone to try). I was unable to pinpoint a time frame for the movie, but creating that sense of timelessness was intriguing. You know it is more contemporary, but there are very few pieces of modern technology used. It’s an old logging town, so connectivity would be sparse anyway, which keeps it real. Children aren’t hovering over electronic devices, but reading is a favored activity. I appreciated that there were no characters filled with delusion or greed to the point of self destruction. There is rivalry, but redemption, as with many Disney movies, does have its place in this film.
What I wish were different: There were some parts of the movie that were slow moving, particularly the beginning. I wish it had been filled with a little more of the how Pete survived over those years in the woods and how Elliot took care of him and nurtured him. I also felt that there could have been a little more depth written into the characters involved in the story, particularly the rivalry between Gavin and Jack (two brothers who work for the lumber yard) and Mr. Meacham’s story after he had had his encounter years prior. But – that’s just my opinion and perhaps not the majority. Perhaps these were scenes that were edited out to keep the story line pure. Of course, nothing I wish were different takes away from the fact that this is a wonderful family movie and I’m looking forward to watching it with my boys.
Hubby was my “second ticket” for the evening and he walked away with similar views in some areas, different in others. His big takeaway was also the relationship between Elliot and Pete, more like a boy and his dog. He was reminded of our two dogs back home and how they love to chase their tail, play in water, are very protective when they sense danger (almost to a fault – I mean, you know, the birds in the backyard are dangerous) and care for us when they can sense we are sick or need some love.
Good for the family?
As a whole, I would absolutely recommend this as a great movie for the family. For littles under seven and those with particular sensitivities, I would caution you on a few scenes. There are a few references to loss in various forms, a handful of chase scenes, a tranquilizer gun is used and Pete does seem to be a runner. There are some loud sounds as Elliot can be rather loud at times, particularly when protective of Pete, and there are a few trucks that do find themselves tipping over. In general, the language is clean with little soft name-calling (fool, for instance) and a muffled sound that may be taken as religiously deragatory, but there are no sexual innuendos in the movie whatsoever. It’s a great stand-alone film that takes the stripped down basics of a classic and creates a new tale that continues to inspire unconditional love, the value of family and the importance of trust and true friendship.
All in all, I’m glad I drove the 90 minutes through several traffic jams to see this film, as well as battled a treacherous storm on the way home. It was an experience I had been hoping to have and a movie I had been hoping to see. If you are looking for a family outing this weekend, go out and enjoy a family movie! Grab some popcorn, and something to drink, sit back and prepare to fall in love with Pete’s Dragon.
Personally, I feel everyone should have an Elliot in their life!
Until the next set of footprints are made, ~ T
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