Pete’s Dragon was just released on Blu-ray/DVD. The movie is one of many live action films based on animation that Disney has had in development (I think around 20 total now, including what has been released). It’s a lot! And each film has a distinctly different feel from the next. For example, The Jungle Book by Jon Favreau earlier this year was a huge movie, with a lot of similarities and references to the original film. On the other hand, Pete’s Dragon has a delightfully low-budget look to it but also a timeframe that feels like early 80s (E.T. continually was in my mind during the film). And it shares little with the original movie except for the title and the names Pete and Elliot and that they are a boy and a dragon.
The film begins with tragedy, and five-year old Pete (Levi Alexander) ends up running into the woods. Elliot is introduced in those first few minutes of the film, as Pete befriends him. Elliot as a character is stunning, with wind blowing through his fur (think 2001 and Sully in Pixar’s Monsters Inc.) and the moistness visible on his nose and mouth. Sadness and joy show in Elliot’s eyes.
After Pete and Elliot meet, the film picks up six years later. Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) likes to regale the locals with stories of a green dragon with eyes “red like hellfire”. His daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a local forest ranger. She has never seen the dragon nor Pete (played at 10 years old by Oakes Fegley), and doesn’t believe a dragon exists in the woods. She says she knows the woods like the back of her hand, though it never feels that way – one of a few weaknesses for me in the story.
Loggers show up to the woods, and very quickly Pete is seen by teenager Natalie (Oona Lawrence). During the film, she seems to have an uncanny ability to disappear without anyone noticing, and she heads into the woods and follows Pete. He runs away, but not too far and eventually ends up being taken home by Grace. It doesn’t take long for Pete to go from a child that seems to be raised in the woods to a child who seems ready for a family – and his vocabulary goes from rudimentary to more advanced very quickly. So while the film is inconsistent to me in some ways, it also has a lot of warmth and Bryce Dallas Howard especially just lights up the screen. Just to see the lovely way Elliot has been designed is worth the movie for me. And Robert Redford does a great job here.
For kids, the tragic accident at the beginning of the film might raise some questions – but it is subtly done. Later in the film, Elliot being shot at and taken by logger Gavin (Karl Urban) could be disturbing and there is some action that might be a little scary. But the ending is…what else when you watch this film? Magic, as Mr. Meacham would say. The film has a timeless feel to it and is destined to be a classic.
Pete’s Dragon flew a little under the radar this year in theaters – it was a big year for family movies. I do recommend adding Pete’s Dragon to your Christmas and holiday gift list (or just for yourself!) I give Pete’s Dragon a B.
The Blu-ray bonus features are short but interesting. Here are the main ones.
Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary (7:31) – David Lowery, the director talks about the making of the movie – including about why they shot in New Zealand and showing how the kids worked with a non-existent dragon.
Making Magic (2:12) – 150 artists were needed to create Elliot. He’s a vegetarian. He’s 22 feet tall with an 80 foot wingspan. He was also very much based on David Lowery’s cats(!) – he said he wanted to make a 22 foot tall version of his cats. 20 million individually placed hairs, which give life to the fur. This is some of what is told here!
Disappearing” Moments (9:12) – Essentially these are the deleted scenes in the movie, though not titled as such.
Bloopers (1:28) – There aren’t a lot of real bloopers, it’s mostly laughing and sneezing along with more laughing.
The one movie trailer on the DVD is for the upcoming live action Beauty and the Beast. There is also a commentary.
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