Mr. Howe is again camping! I’m starting to think maybe he’s having a secret relationship with a dragon himself — he is a Pete after all, spending a great deal of time in the woods. So I’m to review Disney’s update of Pete’s Dragon by myself.
I saw the original when it came out in 1977, although probably in 1978 because back then, before Canada became America Junior, everything took a little bit longer to get up here. At any rate, the original Pete’s Dragon was one of the first movies I went to the cinema to see. (It was about the time of Gus the football playing donkey, don’t know if anyone remembers that one.) Disney, in the ‘70s, released a lot of films, not all of them good. I remember the original film as being musical and sad, because Pete and his dragon must part ways. In this remake they still part ways, albeit for different reasons and it’s still a bit sad, but thankfully no one is singing songs.
Of the things that can be said about this new version of Pete’s Dragon, the most notable would be the things one would expect: products of improved craftsmanship and technology. The dragon (Elliot) is not a cartoon, he’s real, in much the same way the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are real. Elliot looks, moves and sounds like a very realistic dragon. The world in which the story takes place (late 20th century Pacific Northwest) is also less 1977, less campy, less juvenile. Our new fable takes itself seriously. Finally, and I’m very happy to report this, the film is also artful, beautiful and most uniquely, quiet. There are no extended fight scenes, explosions and scenes of general chaos, even unlike the other good Disney film of the summer, The Jungle Book. For at least 40 minutes of Pete’s Dragon, it’s just us, Elliot and Pete frolicking in the woods. Anyone who has seen any of my films knows I’m a big fan of frolicking in the woods.
As it is a Disney film, Pete has to become orphaned at the beginning of the story so that Elliot can come to his rescue. For some years they live together in the woods, until they are discovered by accident. Pete is taken back to civilization, and the dragon, having been seen by a grown-up, ends up captured so that both he and the kid become a type of prisoner to civilization.
In the end it turns out that Pete should live with other humans and Elliot should live with other dragons, and this is what happens after a tearful hug. That’s basically it for the plot, you can throw in a moral subplot about deforestation if you’d care to notice, but there’s not a lot to the story. It’s not the story that makes this film strong, it’s the telling of it. Take your kids of any age to Pete’s Dragon and you’ll be able to enjoy it yourself.
— Taylor gives Pete’s Dragon 3.5 Keys out of 5.
Brian Taylor and Peter Howe are film reviews based in Vernon. Their column, Reel Reviews, appears in The Morning Star every Friday.