Film review: Pete’s Dragon

This beautiful family film about a young boy and his dragon companion is elegantly shot, engaging and magical.

Sep 15, 2016, updated Sep 15, 2016

Pete, like all good Disney heroes, is an orphan. After a car accident claims the lives of his parents, he emerges from the car wreck and wanders off into the forest.

Facing certain death-by-hungry-wolves, the young boy is saved by a giant fluffy green dragon who becomes his companion while he lives in the wild for the next five years.

With all the elements of a classic Disney film, this remake of the 1977 movie of the same name is surprisingly beautiful and engaging without being too sweet and sickly.

Have the tissues close at hand throughout, though – if an angel-faced orphan boy fighting to save his pet dragon from greedy, fame-seeking loggers doesn’t have you shedding a tear, then there’s little hope.

Written and directed by David Lowery, Pete’s Dragon is elegantly shot and is stunning in 3D. There is almost an art-house feel to the cinematography, with much of the narrative being led by the sweeping motion of scenery both in the urban and forest scenes. This approach to the story elevates the film well above many cinematic fairytales.

Oakes Fegley plays Pete with wide-eyed charm; he’s irresistible and perfectly suited to the role, bringing his character to life with a believable innocence and curiosity. His sidekick Elliott (the dragon) is just as charming and is one of the best CGI creations I’ve seen. The supporting cast includes Oona Laurence as a young girl who befriends Pete and helps him adjust to life outside the forest.

The depth of the story is in the relationships – between the characters, their environment and themselves. Family films are becoming increasingly clever at being able to keep moviegoers of all ages satisfied and this is an exemplary example. The storyline in Pete’s Dragon is simple enough for the young to follow, but has sufficient character development and the odd line of dry-wit to keep adults engaged.

Of course, it can’t all be happy dragons frolicking in the woods. In this case, the inevitable conflict involves conservationists and loggers, believers and skeptics, the greedy and the kind-hearted. But it’s still a Disney film, so it’s no spoiler to confirm you can expect a “happily ever after” ending.

Pete’s Dragon is elegant and magical; a beautiful journey that is refreshingly mature in its handling of a classic tale.

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