Review: Pete’s Dragon

Oakes Fegley plays Pete, who becomes orphaned after his parents die in a car crash. He finds himself out in the woods all alone and about to be wolf dinner until he is rescued by a green dragon. The gentle creature who has the ability to make himself invisible becomes the boy’s friend, with Pete naming the dragon Elliott. Six years later, park ranger Bryce Dallas Howard and her step-daughter Oona Laurence discover the boy and along with her fiancé Wes Bentley (a logging manager and Laurence’s father), they take Pete in. Pete also meets Howard’s father Robert Redford, who claims to have seen a dragon long ago himself. Meanwhile, Bentley’s sour logger brother Karl Urban swears he saw  Elliott and is determined to track the dragon down.

The original “Pete’s Dragon” was yet another attempt by Disney to mix live-action and traditional cell animation, after “Mary Poppins” and the extremely underrated “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”. It wasn’t a good movie, but the only real problem was the title dragon, which has dated in terms of animation and spoke in squeaky farts. It was appalling and ruined what was an otherwise perfectly pleasant, if overlong film. Now comes this 2016 remake from director David Lowery (who comes from a mostly short film background) and his co-writer Toby Halbrooks (also a producer and actor, and frequent Lowery collaborator), and I’m sorry to say that the dragon is pretty much the only thing they get right this time. A tedious, bland, and very sleepy film, it’s pretty much a waste of everyone’s time.

The film opens in very ballsy fashion for a Disney film: A fatal car accident kills Pete’s parents and leaves him prone to a pack of wolves all alone in the woods. Disney, ladies and gents. They want to fuck your childhood up good and well. Lead actor Oakes Fegley is forgettable in the lead, with Pete being somewhat re-written to look and behave like Mowgli from “The Jungle Book” rather than the poor hick orphan, in this not terribly faithful remake of the 1977 original. Robert Redford is pretty good in what is essentially the Mickey Rooney role (!) and Oona Laurence is really developing into a fine actress, but they and the dragon (which growls and purrs this time around) simply aren’t enough to keep me interested here. The rest of the cast are a real mixed bag, with Bryce Dallas Howard well-cast but annoying, Karl Urban is completely awful in a tedious stereotype, and Wes Bentley continues to find ways to not showcase his genuine talent in an underdeveloped role that doesn’t play to his strengths.

The cinematography by Bojan Bazelli (“Pumpkinhead”, “Kalifornia”) is also uneven, with some really lovely green-hued daytime photography, but horribly murky night-time scenes that drove me insane. The FX work on the dragon is perfectly fine, so it’s not like there was any reason to hide it through darkness. I wasn’t overly impressed with the often fiddle-heavy, kiddie music score by Daniel Hart (TV’s “The Exorcist”), which grated on me at times with its corniness. The folk-y songs on the soundtrack are even worse.

The original really only got the dragon wrong, this film only gets the dragon right. Tiresome, clichéd and unpersuasive re-tooling is pretty sleepy, subpar stuff. A pretty big failure from The House of Mouse. Where’s Jim Dale when you need him?

Rating: C-


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