Pete’s Dragon will soar into your heart

Pete's Dragon stars Oona Laurence (l) and Oakes Fegley (r)

Pete’s Dragon stars Oona Laurence (l) and Oakes Fegley (r)

The 1977 Disney classic Pete’s Dragon has been completely re-envisioned for a new millennium, and the result is one of the finest remakes in the current slew of rehashed ideas from last century, along with Ghostbusters. In case you didn’t see the original, as in my case, for I had to watch it on dvd this week in order to fairly compare the two, let’s start by revisiting the basic story line for the first film, which was based on the children’s book Pete’s Dragon by Malcolm Marmorstein.

The 1977 musical comedy film Pete’s Dragon from Walt Disney Productions was a live-action film but its title character, a dragon named Elliott, was animated. The technique pre-dated modern CGI, which was in its infancy at George Lucas’ ILM, and Pixar hadn’t even been conceived. The story was about a young orphan named Pete who entered the town of Passamaquoddy, a small fishing community on Passamaquoddy Bay in eastern Maine. His only friend was a dragon named Elliott, who acted as his protector and was generally visible only to Pete, which occasionally landed Pete in trouble with the locals. The film also starred Helen Reddy, Mickey Rooney, Jim Dale, Red Buttons, Jeff Conaway, and Shelley Winters. That film was directed by Don Chaffey, and the songs were by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn.

If you’re a fan of Helen Reddy, you would love it. The song “Candle on the Water” received an Academy Award nomination, but lost to “You Light Up My Life” from the film of the same title. Reddy’s recording (with a different arrangement than the one her character sings in the film) was released as a single by Capitol Records, reaching #27 on the Adult Contemporary charts. The movie also received a nomination for Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Adaptation Score, losing to A Little Night Music.

The new film wisely veers away from the musical comedy format and is more in the line of a family action drama. For years, old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) has delighted local children with his tales of the fierce dragon that resides deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. To his daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who works as a forest ranger, these stories are little more than tall tales…until she meets Pete (Oakes Fegley). Pete is a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home who seems to have lived in the woods alone for six years with a giant, green dragon named Elliot. And from Pete’s descriptions, Elliot seems remarkably similar to the dragon from Mr. Meacham’s stories.

With the help of her daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence), an 11-year-old girl whose father Jack (Wes Bentley) owns the local lumber mill, Grace sets out to determine where Pete came from, where he belongs, and the truth about this dragon.Unfortunately, Jack’s jackass brother Gavin (Karl Urban) is determined to hunt Elliott down for profit and personal gain, putting Pete, Elliott, and the whole town at risk. Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays beleaguered Sheriff Dentler and John Kassir providss the voice of Elliott the Dragon.

The performances by the child lead actors Fegley and Lawrence, and those of Howard and Redford are remarkable, and make you care deeply about the characters they portray. If you don’t cry at least a little during this movie, there’s a hole in your soul. The 103 minute fantasy adventure film was directed by David Lowery from a screenplay written by Lowery and Toby Halbrooks, and was shot in New Zealand for $60 million. This time around the dragon, Elliott, was entirely animated by Weta Digital in CGI instead of the usual hand-drawn animation.

Take the family to see Disney’s Pete’s Dragon at your local Carmike Cinema in the Disney Digital 3-D and RealD 3D formats beginning August 12, 2016. Daniel Hart composed the film’s score. On Rotten Tomatoes at press time the film had a rating of 83%, based on 23 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. On Metacritic the film hasd a score of 72 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews.”