Smart and simple aren’t qualities often seen in the same film, much less those aimed squarely at kids such as Pete’s Dragon. Director David Lowery’s Disney remake is a rare delight in how it respects the intelligence of its audience while still offering up lump-in-the-throat emotional beats in service of a welcomely straightforward story.
Given room to breathe and emote on screen, rather than having to hammer every point home ad nauseum, the top-drawer cast deliver – be they a Hollywood legend (Robert Redford), maternal figure (Bryce Dallas Howard), comical opportunist (Karl Urban), or, most crucially, the young Pete. You’ll buy newcomer Oakes Fegley’s years spent in the wilderness, as well as his friendship with a green furry dragon, this relationship provoking painful pangs felt by both audience and flying friend when Pete finds himself integrating back into human society, which in turn threatens his companion.
As for that dragon, named Elliott by a then four-year-old Pete, he’s charmingly brought to life through playful clumsiness, tangible presence, and wonderfully-animated non-verbal communication. As he soars and swoops through the air, it conjures the same sense of wonder and excitement you’ll see on the faces of his human playmate and witnesses.
Gently mining nostalgia for kids’ films of bygone eras through its thematic sensibilities and somewhere-in-the-mid-80s setting, Pete’s Dragon generally avoids unearned sentimentality and on-the-nose culturally specific touchstones (yes, in this regard it’s no Stranger Things). Instead, this is a gentle tale that brings generations together for an adventure – and, yes, a tear or two in the process – as it goes about using the family connections within the film to provide an emotional core that should impact on grown ups and kids alike.
‘Pete’s Dragon’ Movie Times – also in 3D