“That’s the thing about ‘adventure,’” says Dad (Gareth Reeves), “you have to be brave. Are you brave?” “I don’t know,” says 5-year old Pete (Levi Alexander). “I think you are,” says Mom (Esmee Myers). “You’re the bravest boy I’ve ever seen.” Orphaned suddenly, in the next moments, Pete — 6 years later (Oakes Fegley) — survives, Mowgli-like, in the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest. He’s adopted by Elliott, redwood-sized, furry green dragon (voice of John Kassir), who is Pete’s surrogate father, big brother and best friend, rolled into one. Discovery by forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) sets up a family-friendly story in “Pete’s Dragon.”
Will loggers capture Elliott? Does Pete find a human family? Can you resist this sweet/sad Disney tale? I couldn’t.
Young Oakes Fegley, with his great smile, is irresistible as brave Pete, at home in the woods, but bonding with ranger Grace, husband Jack and daughter Natalie (Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Oona Laurence) and, at the same time, reluctant to leave BFF Elliott. “I want to go home,” says Pete, but where — and with whom — is “home”? As his (maybe) human family, Howard, Bentley and Laurence are low-key and welcoming. John Kassir, voice of CGI Elliott, deserves high praise for sometimes funny/sometimes sad, non-verbal noises that let us know Elliott’s tender feelings.
Others in the cast include Robert Redford as Meacham, wise father of Grace who claims to have seen Elliott years earlier. “Just because you don’t see something,” he says, “doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Redford narrates the film. Karl Urban is Gavin, brother-in-law to Grace who, like his brother Jack, works at a lumber mill. To Gavin, however, Elliott is a money-maker: “This is going to put me on the map! No matter what anyone says, the dragon is mine!”
“Pete’s Dragon” is a live-action remake of Disney’s original film (1977). Like this year’s “The BFG” and “The Good Dinosaur,” it’s an affective “E.T” story — touching friendship between magical creature and human child. “Magic” is the right word, as Redford’s avuncular character says: “Magic — it changes the way we see the world — and I wouldn’t change it for anything.” Directed and co-written by David Lowery (with Toby Halbrook), “Pete’s Dragon” is family-friendly — no language, no sex, no violence (although tranquilizer guns Gavin uses to capture Elliott may disturb young viewers). Still, good dragon Elliott has some tricks of his own which (no spoilers here) I will not disclose.
Rated PG for action, peril and (brief) language, “Pete’s Dragon” runs 103 minutes. “There’s magic in the woods if you know how to look for it,” says Redford. Talk about magic and bravery on your way home.
“Pete’s Dragon” — family treat;
Full of pleasures, sad and sweet;
No language, hanky-panky —
Lots of heart; take a hanky.