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Pete's Dragon - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Pete's Dragon
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B

Some of us spent our childhoods watching the 1977 version of Pete's Dragon incessantly. That doesn't make it a great movie. Sure, it was a fun musical with some catchy tunes. What makes this new version of Pete's Dragon so lovely is how it keeps the themes intact while offering a totally different version of the story. This one isn't a musical, but the case could be made that, unlike most remakes, it actually is an improvement on the original.

The story, as presented, is almost shockingly simple and straightforward. Elliot, the dragon, is seen very early on, and is even revealed to the entire town in which the characters live surprisingly early on in the film. I rather expected the story to focus more on key characters not believing Elliot exists, but instead it has more to do with a guy (played by Karl Urban, most famous as the new Dr. "Bones" McCoy in the Star Trek reboot films) obsessed with capturing Elliot and claiming him as his own.

That guy's name is Gavin, brother of Jack (Wes Bentley), fiancée of Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), daughter of Meacham (Robert Redford), who we hear telling stories of dragons to children at the beginning of the film. Grace is the forest ranger who finds Pete (Oakes Fegley, fantastic), the orphaned boy who everyone acknowledges could never have survived six years in the forest alone.

This is the kind of movie that takes it on faith that you'll move quickly into suspension of disbelief: the title character is literally a magical creature who can disappear at will. I'm a little mystified that he's rendered as furry -- a mammal? -- in this version; dragons are usually a little more, say, reptilian. Maybe the logic here is that his kind is found in the woods. Indeed, there are similarities here to Harry and the Hendersons, just more family-friendly and with a dragon instead of a Sasquatch. It's somewhat noteworthy that this movie is rated PG -- and barely at that; the 1977 version may have been rated G but this one merely has one climactic sequence that incorporates a bit of action involving a car chase onto a bridge.

One of the most refreshing things about this film is how, unlike most movies these days -- even family movies -- it doesn't try too hard to be "sophisticated," in an attempt to compete with modern movie-making conventions. The story here is simple, unfolds at a pace that is never rushed, and focuses far more on the characters than on wowing viewers.

They certainly don't try too hard on the rendering of Elliot, who, while seamlessly integrated into the live-action footage around him, represents merely adequate CGI effects at best. But personality makes up for a lot, and Elliot has that in spades; in fact he's adorable. Elliot behaves like an actual animal, most often reminiscent of a dog, but one with a bit more intelligence. He doesn't talk (mercifully), but sort of moans, growls and whines in ways that reveal his feelings and in some cases intentions.

Fundamentally, Pete's Dragon just offers a sweet, simple story about an orphaned kid who finds a family -- he just also happens to have a furry green dragon as a best friend. It has a magical effect that is difficult to resist. This is the rare movie that works for both adults and kids on the same level -- there's nothing for parents to catch, for example, that would go over kids' heads; no sly references or sneaky humor. It just is what it is, and it works. It has a timeless quality that will help it work just as well for many years to come, for audiences of all ages.

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Overall: B+
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