Saturday, November 19, 2016

'Pete's Dragon' Is a Superior Remake of a Forgettable Disney Movie

Pete’s Dragon is a remake of the 1977 musical film of the same name.  It tells the story of a young boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) who was orphaned in a car accident nearby a forest, who was then found and befriended by a green dragon named Elliot.  Six years after Pete and Elliot met, Pete is found by forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), her boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley), and Jack’s daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence).  Grace initially doubts Pete’s claims of having a dragon for a best friend, but her father (Robert Redford), who is well-known for telling tales of how he encountered a dragon in the forest when he was a young man, encourages her to trust Pete and help him reunite with his dragon.  Meanwhile, Elliot finds himself being hunted by a party of local lumberjacks led by Gavin (Karl Urban), Jack’s brother.

This remake is easily superior to the original.  But only because the first one was forgettable and bland.  Thus, anything that Disney decided to make at this point out of the concept was guaranteed to be better.  I have some vague memory of being able to see it in someone’s Betamax, and even as a kid with minimal standards, I found it wacky but in a strangely boring sense.

Pete’s Dragon, the remake, is a good family movie.  But it’s pretty safe and standard one at that.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the movie wields its familiar narrative beats to tell an effectively heart-warming and pleasant story.  However, it also doesn’t offer anything of profound merit to become a Disney favorite.
As for the visuals, the CGI work on Elliot is nigh immaculate.  The original’s fusion of hand-drawn animation and live-action has its charms, of course (I love the technique; for the record, of all the movies that employed it, my favorites are Marry Poppins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Space Jam), but it’s incomparable to the near realism of bringing a mammal-like dragon to life (it’s kind of refreshing to see a mammalian dragon instead of the usual reptilian; it’s the first I’ve seen in a movie since The NeverEnding Story).  Based on the company’s recent accomplishments, especially on Jungle Book, I think it’s only appropriate to conclude that Disney does the best CGI work in movies today.

Anyway, Pete’s Dragon may be one of Disney’s lesser works, but it’s another victory, though a small one, for its ongoing venture of remaking/reinventing its old movie properties.

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