Past the Popcorn: Pete’s Dragon is a Different Movie, Not Just a Remake

by Jeff Walls

Disney has no shortage of movies in their catalogue to remake and it appears as if they plan to go through them all.  The animated Jungle Book was given an update earlier this year and now Disney brings us a remake of their 1977 live-action/animated hybrid Pete’s Dragon.  Director David Lowery has made it clear that the movie is not so much a remake as it is a “re-imagining.”  Gone are the songs and much of the plot, but what remains is the heart of the film, a story of a young orphan boy and his friend, who just so happens to be a dragon.

After a short prologue, we are introduced to Pete and the dragon he calls Elliot frolicking in the woods north of a small logging community.  When the logging business starts closing in on their home, Pete goes to check it out and after being injured, he wakes up in the hospital in town.  He is befriended by a girl his age named Natalie and is taken into her home by her father and soon-to-be mother-in-law.  Pete tells them about his friend Elliot, but they begin to wonder if it is just an imaginary friend.

In his attempts to find his friend, however, Elliot was seen by some of the loggers who are now intent on hunting him down and making money off the incredible discovery of the world’s first dragon.  It is up to Pete, Natalie, and an old hunter named Meacham who once experienced the “magic” of the dragon and would very much like to experience it once more.

The special effects in this movie can also be described as magical.  The computer-generated Elliot is brilliantly done and the dragon feels like a real part of the world in which this movie takes place.  Never does he feel like a special effect in his interactions with Pete or anyone else.  The decision to make Elliot a furry dragon rather than the typical scaly dragon we usually see was an inspired one.  Even though he is large with a mouthful of giant teeth and we can see why the townsfolk would be afraid of him at first glance, we can also easily see how Pete could form a friendship with him.  He is like a giant dog.  Man’s—or boy’s, in this case—best friend in dragon form.

The story is simple, but a more complex story is not necessary.  It features a good cast and tells a heartwarming story most audience members will surely be able to get behind.  There are definitely some logic holes that the movie chooses just to skip over, but in a world in which a young boy is best friends with a giant dragon, I think we can afford to suspend our disbelief enough to let those go.

Really the only time I questioned what the filmmakers were doing was with some of the musical choices.  Maybe because the original movie was a musical they felt compelled to use songs instead of score over some of the scenes, but it did feel strange having something close to a ballad playing over scenes involving action.  An adventurous or suspenseful score might have felt more appropriate in those moments.

Those few moments are the only ones in the film that took me out of the story, though, and they do not ruin the overall enjoyment of the movie.  I am not a big fan of remakes in general, but because of the decision to make this more of a re-imagining than a remake, the movie felt like its own thing and not just a copy.  Pete’s Dragon is solid family entertainment.

Pete’s Dragon is now playing at the Century Federal Way, AMC Kent Station 14, and AMC Southcenter 16. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Until then, eat local before you go!

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