Although the original Pete’s Dragon movie was released in 1977, I don’t have a strong recollection of it until my brother (born in 1980) was old enough to watch it. And then we watched it… over and over and over again. It was a classic Disney movie complete with goofy characters, catchy tunes, and a heartwarming story.
As for the new Pete’s Dragon movie… well, it has a boy named Pete and a dragon named Elliot, just like the original. But that’s where the similarities end.
Let’s start with some of the major differences.
|1977 Pete’s Dragon movie||2016 Pete’s Dragon movie|
|Set in the early 1900s||Set in the early 1980s|
|Full of musical numbers sung by the characters||Great soundtrack but provided only as background music|
|Pete escapes his adoptive hillbilly family and meets Elliott the dragon||Pete is abandoned in the woods and raised by Elliott the dragon|
|Takes place in Maine with the stormy sea as a backdrop||Set in the Pacific Northwest with the majestic forests as a backdrop|
You probably get the idea. It’s not a remake. It’s a film inspired by the original. Even producer David Whitaker is quick to admit that he used to story as a “leaping-off point” knowing that no matter how the story changed, the story of a boy and his dragon would be special.
So if the movie is so dramatically different from the original, how can it feel nostalgic?
With it set in the early 1980s, 9 year old Pete and 12 year old Natalie are right around the age I would have been during that era. It was a kinder, gentler, simpler time where kids read books and played outside. No video games, no cell phones, just kids exploring the world around them. I loved that part.
But the real nostalgia is in the style of the film. Back in my day, Disney made two kinds of films: completed animated tales, Cinderella, Robin Hood, and The Rescuers; and salt-of-the-earth stories that appealed to families, like Escape from Witch Mountain, The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Cat form Outer Space, and virtually every Kurt Russell movie before 1975.
Now for the details.
The story is solid with a terrific cast. It’s heartwarming and classic. It’s also what my son called “predictable” (I think all these movie reviews have ruined that kid of mine) but I can’t argue with a well-acted story with a happy ending.
Bryce Dallas Howard is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses. Her performance is always so earnest whether she’s running from dinosaurs or nurturing a boy who’s been living in the woods for six years.
Robert Redford plays her father and local town storyteller who has the kids guessing about whether a dragon really lives up in the hills. But his tale of encountering a dragon will have you believing in magic.
Oona Laurence, who plays 12 year old Natalie, stole the show for me, though. Her acting and presence is so effortless that I know we’ll see plenty more of her in years to come.
Supporting characters played by Wes Bentley and Karl Urban will keep your head scratching for at least half of the movie if you’re anything like me. The faces are familiar but hard to place. I eventually recognized Wes Bentley from the classic movie, American Beauty, but couldn’t place Karl Urban until IMDB revealed he played Bones in the recent Star Trek revival.
But there’s one more star in the film that I haven’t mentioned. And it’s the only cast member that I didn’t really love. It’s Elliott the dragon. I wanted him to be cute, like the original animated dragon.
Instead, I feel like we got a green version of Falkor from The Neverending Story.
Dragons have fur? I always thought they had scales?
There were a few plot points that didn’t make total sense to me but I let those go right over my head because I really wanted to like this movie and I did.
There’s sadness in the movie so if you’re looking to get weepy, you just might. But nobody dies and I promise it’s a happy ending. I definitely recommend this as a family movie if you’re looking for a break from all of the action heroes and just want a kinder, gentler movie.