Oh boy! another live action remake/reboot type scenario from Disney, because that’s what we want and need (ugh!). Well at least they took an old forgotten movie which wasn’t really too good, because at least that makes some sense (glances at the movies in the queue awaiting their turn…I feel your pain, I really do).
So the original 1977 movie was a musical with a classic cast and is commonly known to be Disney’s attempt at riding on the coattails of its earlier success ‘Mary Poppins’. Its at this point I will admit that I have never actually seen the 1977 movie of Peter and his dragon, so I cannot compare. Essentially I’m going into this franchise remake/reboot blind which makes a change, primarily because I can’t rip this new version apart compared to the original (bugger).
So the story goes like this. A young boy is orphaned when his family are involved in a car crash whilst driving though the forest, somewhere in the pacific north west I believe. Its at this point that the young Peter accidentally meets a mysterious dragon who decides to take Peter in and care for him, for some reason. Six years later and Peter is found by Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a park ranger, her boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley), Natalie (Oona Laurence), Jack’s daughter, and Gavin (Karl Urban), Jack’s brother. They take Peter in and try to care for him but naturally Peter has difficulties coping without Elliot (Peter named the dragon Elliot after a character in his favourite book). Eventually Elliot the dragon is discovered and captured by Gavin and his work colleges (after tricking Grace). So Grace, Natalie and Pete must help Elliot escape the authorities, long story short.
So this movie isn’t an original premise, in fact you could look at it as a complete rip-off of a few other genres and ideas. Firstly, this could so easily have been a Steven Spielberg movie, its basically ‘E.T.’ for Pete’s sake (ahem). A young boy finds a mysterious creature, they make friends, they get discovered and the boy must help the creature evade the authorities. Not only that but this movie is set in the 80’s, coincidence? The entire set up of this movie is your standard emotional ride with all the familiar beats that we’ve seen a million times before (usually with animals, aliens or whatever). Kid finds a family, unique friend is an added extra.
Then you have the Tarzan aspect of the film, yes that’s right, Tarzan. The young Pete lives in the forest with Elliot the dragon. He runs around in just some ripped pants, no top, no socks, no shoes, long hair, barefoot, very grubby. Both he and Elliot leap, bound and fly around the forest without a care in the world.
At no point do either of them ever get seen, even when flying through the skies in broad daylight and the fact there’s a lumberjack work crew not so far away, but whatever. When young Pete comes across a young Natalie it might as well be a young Tarzan meeting a young Jane, literally. Its also weird how Pete has seemingly never ever thought about finding help after the car accident. Just ran off into the woods with a large mythical creature, who cares about my folks right.
The funny thing is Elliot the dragon isn’t really in the film all that much. He’s there at the start when we get the Tarzan sequences and he’s there for the climatic finale of course. But for much of the middle section Elliot is not around because we are dealing with Pete and his new family (Grace and Jack who find him). Is that a problem? no, it shouldn’t be, but alas here I do think we needed to see more hijinks with Pete and Elliot. More actual fun happy moments of tomfoolery perhaps.
The film looks great with its woody setting, small American as apple pie town (with 80’s visage), and the cast act well, but again there are problems. There are too many big names here methinks. Bryce Dallas Howard is perfect as Grace the caring mother type. Wes Bentley is fine as the bearded outdoors father type. Oona Laurence is maybe too good as the daughter who befriends Pete because she simply doesn’t act like a child.
Dunno if Laurence is like this is reality but its like a mature woman trapped in a child’s body, weird. Then you have Karl Urban as the brother who initially seems fine, then becomes the bad guy, but is then forgiven for everything it seems. Urban is too bigger name for this role if you ask me. Maybe they should have swapped Bentley and Urban around, have Urban as the father and Bentley as the brother/baddie (he has that look). But then on top of all that you have Robert Redford shoehorned in as Grace’s father, the old man who knows about the dragon but no one believes (couldn’t get more cliched if you tried).
Bottom line there are too many characters and the movie can’t decide which character you should be following. Considering the movies title is ‘Pete’s Dragon’ you’d think it would focus completely on Pete, well no, no it doesn’t. But that might be a good thing because the kid playing Pete (Oakes Fegley…Oakes??) isn’t that good. His performance just isn’t very compelling. He’s always looking miserable, always pulling a scowling face and looks stupid with the wig. I never really got any kind of fun vibes from him.
Elliot the dragon isn’t the best looking dragon I’ve ever seen to be frank, but it does the job. Obviously the movie is supposed to be a serious take but at times it doesn’t look that way with a daft looking, big green furry dragon that can become invisible. The plot is as old as the hills, its not exactly a fun filled film, its a tad dull, not enough dragon action and there are too many protagonists. OK OK look, this film is fine, its your standard emotional, heart-string tugger with lashings of your standard CGI fluff. Its completely and utterly as safe as houses for the family to watch, no doubt about that. I just think its too safe, literally paint by numbers.