The 400-Word Review: Pete's Dragon
By Sean Collier
August 17, 2016
Trying to figure out why Disney bothered rebooting Pete's Dragon is a baffling endeavor.
The fresh take on the studio's mostly forgotten 1977 film of the same name is the second live-action remake from the Mouse House this year alone (the third if you count Alice Through the Looking Glass). It is the second non-animated feature from the studio in as many months, after The BFG. It is the seventh release from the studio in 2016 alone, with another heavily marketed cartoon (Moana) yet to come.
At a certain point, they might just be making too many movies. And if they were looking for one to cut from the roster, this dull-as-dirt adaptation would've been a fine candidate.
In a heart-wrenching, Pixar-esque prelude, Pete (Levi Alexander in the opening scene, Oakes Fegley for most of the film) is praised by his adoring parents immediately before they're killed in a car crash. Wandering into the woods, the boy is accosted by a pack of wolves; the lupine assailants are scared off by the appearance of a giant, furry, decidedly dog-like dragon, who becomes Pete's protector and companion.
Years later, a logging team is encroaching on the duo's territory; hard-headed Gavin (Karl Urban) is trying to push deeper into the forest while environmentalist Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) wants to keep him out. Pete is discovered, the grown-ups try to figure out where he came from, the lumberjacks notice the large dragon in their midst and so forth.
Oh, and Robert Redford is around as the wise old man who believes in dragons, these kids today, no magic in their minds, I'll tell ya.
In plenty of films, a languid pace is a gift; in family cinema especially, it is a bygone tactic that can create a wistful, comfortable feeling when used properly. In Pete's Dragon, however, it is simply the case that things progress slowly because little to nothing is actually happening; the storybook plot is padded with long, lingering shots of the characters staring at something - anything - because there isn't any script for them to get through at the moment.
The film's few moments of genuine sentiment are achieved through the easiest sort of emotional blackmail, practically defying anyone not to be moved by the doe-eyed youth and his furry friend. No need to worry about shedding a tear, however; you'll be asleep long before you'll have the opportunity.
My Rating: 3/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark