Film Review: Pete’s Dragon

In association with the Grosvenor


2016 has so far been a promising year for children’s cinema. The new adaptations of the BFG and The Jungle Book were critically acclaimed and rightfully well-received, gently merging live-action and CGI to stylistically depart from their predecessors. Pete’s Dragon is no different.

The film follows young Pete (played by Oakes Fegley), who at age 5 is left alone in a forest after his family die in a car crash. The wandering toddler, left to fend for himself, is adopted by a peaceful and magical dragon named Elliot. This new incarnation of the dragon is more akin to Toothless than any of the Khaleesi’s familiars. Covered with green fur and responding mainly in calming purrs, Elliot is the embodiment of a child’s truest wants: safety, reassurance and adventure.

Six years later, Pete is found by Grace (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), a park ranger who frequents the forest. She outgrew the stories her father (Robert Redford) told her about dragons living in the woods, but her curiosity strikes when she stumbles across Pete, now feral and independent. Elliot’s protective magic eventually fails as both he and Pete are exposed to modern civilisation.

The 1977 original shares little with it’s David Lowery-lead update, from setting (the original was set during the early 1900s in Maine with it’s reboot set in the 1970s) to its narrative stakes. Rather than the plethora of odd-ball antagonists that threatened our heroes in the 1977 version, the recent update sees Pete and Elliot threatened by the the destruction of their forest home. These warnings of environmental peril strike more of a metaphor for nostalgia and adolescence than of the harmfulness of deforestation. Pete’s exposure to reality through the destruction of his whimsical forest home can be read as a symbol for his passage from escapism to real life. That he and Elliot the dragon must eventually part ways perhaps further reinforces this. The grief of losing touch with one’s childhood freedom is something the audience can surely relate to.

Overall, the sparse pockets of plot issues will go over most heads of kids watching this film. (For example, Pete’s language capabilities have far surpassed that of a five year old, despite living alone with a dragon who cannot talk). With strong performances all around and a great cover of one of my favourite Karen Dalton songs, Pete’s Dragon is a shining contribution to modern children’s cinema.

[Naomi Gessesse – @cinemagalpal]

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