Soft and Safe: Our Review of ‘Disney’s Pete’s Dragon’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - August 12, 2016
Soft and Safe: Our Review of ‘Disney’s Pete’s Dragon’

Similar to the beast in it’s title, Pete’s Dragon is soft, slightly awkward, sometimes serious, and momentarily challenging. This fluffy live-action Disney remake of a mostly-live action Disney film of the same name from the 70s has heart, though far too big a one, creating conflict but resolving strife and forgiving villainy without a care.

After a car accident in which his parents die, which is shown in a tragic yet palatable way, Pete is marooned in the forest of the Pacific Northwest by himself at five years of age. That is until the trees start to shake and out emerges a creature of lore: a dragon.

Jump ahead six years later, and Pete (Oakes Fegley) has grown up healthy if a little bit feral, accustomed to forest living with the help of his furry best friend, now named Elliott, a dragon that is more or less a big dog that knows a few tricks. However, loggers from a nearby quaint town are starting to encroach upon the vast wilderness, and soon enough Pete’s curiosity and new found proximity to humans has him encounter one for the first time.

So he’s taken back to reality, unable to adjust to a drastically different way of living, but more important, he’s forced to confront humans who don’t understand him and his best friend. And while sweet and beautiful, this film only dips its toes into conflict, offering tension only to sweep it away as quickly and easily as possible.

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That is to say, this Disney family fare is easily digestible, and it’s only feelings are nice and positive ones. It’s palatable and safe, and all that is fine if it wasn’t blatantly clear that there is plenty of opportunity to do something the least bit daring.

After all, our main adult character is a park ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), and her fiance is a logger (Wes Bentley). His brother is also a logger, but one with a little more hubris and bravado. Played by Karl Urban with an American accent and some of the cockiness to go with it, he leads a hunt to capture the dragon. He doesn’t know quite what he would want to do with Elliot, but he knows it’ll make him a boatload of money.

Meanwhile, Grace’s father (Robert Redford) maintains that he once saw Elliot, and carries with him a mix of wisdom and playfulness in every scene – only kids and the retired believe in magic, naturally.

The fact that Elliot’s land, and in turn that land of all the forest dwellers, is being destroyed is only used as a device to justify his discovery – though Elliot can still turn invisible. What’s more, like in Jurassic World, Howard is playing a character that has to succumb to the casually sexist ideas of a male director, made to believe strongly in her job but allow her fiance to do his. At one point she tosses away the keys of a machine, quipping she has to make it a challenge for him. You know, a challenge to cut down the trees that she is supposedly trying to protect. But hey, maybe there aren’t that many eligible bachelors out there._petesdragon_05_6c4939ea

Instead of making a statement about our hurtful relationship with animals, with nature, and that which we don’t understand, we’ve a friendlier tale that doesn’t so much appeal to the best in us, but assume it exists in everyone. There is plenty to enjoy, and there are no shortage of adults who react with fear and shock at something they don’t understand. A finale becomes a chase and a riveting standoff, though once again, not so much so that it will upset anyone for too long.

Elliot is a big, loving, awkward dog; and Pete’s Dragon is his warm, sloppy kiss.

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Check out our interview with Bryce Dallas Howard about her time on set while making Pete’s Dragon.

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