In the unlikely event that you remember Disney’s rather odd 1977 live-action/animated feature Pete’s Dragon, banish it from your mind as this is really an entirely different movie.
Which is absolutely fine as the combination of a collection of hard working and charismatic actors and a simple but magical concept makes the film something of an an unexpected delight.
We live in a pretty cynical age so it’s refreshing to find a film that’s so open in its intentions- presenting an uncomplicated story about a boy and his sometimes invisible dragon. There are pleasant people like Robert Redford telling stories, competent kid actors and a gorgeously animated creature waiting in the wings.
Magic is hard to capture on screen when we’re so used to impeccable effects and modern films borrowing nostalgia instead of creating anything special on their own but director David Lowery manages to conjure up some here.
Even the setting adds to the mystery, an ill-defined late 70s or early 80s era which certainly recalls the time and place of familiar adventure films but isn’t interested in references and callbacks.
The timing feels essential to the story-telling, back before the proliferation of Google Maps and mobile phones robbed the mystery from the world, and a convenient decade or three from modern times.
Cast wise it’s all very watchable, especially Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard as well as young folks Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence. Karl Urban has a tough line to follow as the films only semi baddie and is a solid target for boos and hisses.
The only blip to my mind was Wes Bentley who just felt a little out of place. Mostly I kept thinking about how much I’d prefer to see James Marsden in the role but that’s true for pretty much any movie. More Marsden please.
Then there’s Elliot the dragon who the film spends little time hiding, and rightly so as he’s a marvellous creation from the folks at Weta Digital. Pulling off the green fur in any kind of realistic fashion takes a talented SFX crew and there’s a real sense of weight and presence to the beast, complete with a dog-like persona that works, even if it’s a little on the lazy side.
Pete’s Dragon has enough moments of comedy and all-ages drama to keep the whole family entertained but it’s at its best when venturing into forests in search of the unknown or soaring above the clouds on magical wings. Well worth seeking out in cinemas, but the 3D is far from necessary.