As Disney continues on its remake rampage, it seems to have finally hit its stride following the second successful live action conversion of one of its classics. With the wildly successful The Jungle Book earlier this year, Disney shows us just how promising its remakes can be, which personally, makes me feel a lot better about the upcoming Beauty and the Beast. Up to this point, Disney’s remake filmography may seem incredible, but Pete’s Dragon is easily their most ambitious one yet.
The original Pete’s Dragon was a part animation, part live action hybrid musical full of alcoholics and reinforced with gender roles. It threw us right into the middle of Pete’s story with no previous reference point or backstory. The remake fixes this major issue by starting from the very beginning of Pete’s (Oakes Fegley) story and just how he met with his soon-to-be inseparable dragon buddy Elliot. This change alone improves the emotional core of the story and is a great starting point for the film’s tone. In a surprising twist, Disney doesn’t just churn out a frame-by-frame reshoot of the film but instead creates a completely new story set in recognizable, real world place with characters we can actually relate to. There is even a bit of an environmentalist message scattered throughout the film since it takes place in a sawmill city.
Writer/Director David Lowery has shown us just how beautifully he can craft rural tales involving love and family. He understands how to effortlessly showcase the natural beauty of his surroundings without letting it overwhelm the film or overshadow the story. The film’s meandering pace is meant to mirror the serene calmness of a small, rural city. Think of it as a quiet stroll through the forest soundtracked by thoughtful folk and country music with the occasional moment of excitement, like coming across a majestic wild animal. This is definitely not meant for the younger audience that the original Pete’s Dragon attracted with its cartoonish qualities and upbeat, musical scoring. This remake’s subject matter alone is meant for an older, young adult audience who can appreciate a family film without needing to be constantly bombarded by raucous music or blaring, bright visuals.
Elliot’s design is a vast improvement from the hokey, over-the-top cartoon version we had previously seen. His animation is much more subtle, blending Elliot’s CGI perfectly to his surrounding. If you were wandering through a forest in the American Northwest and happen to come across a dragon, this is what you would expect it to look like. Fur was, of course, added to complete the huggable design, which no viewer will mind. Elliot’s role in the world was also changed, giving him less human-like qualities and more companion animal ones, very similar to a puppy. Elliot’s story is meant to echo Pete’s in the search for family, companionship, and acceptance, which is a vast improvement from just having his origin being something as simple as an imaginary friend.
The rest of the characters each carry a new representation than the original. The previously drunk father is not turned into a storyteller named Meacham (Robert Redford), who is known for talking about his encounter with a dragon. Instead of the town thinking he's senile or facing some alcohol-fueled delusion, they endearlingy embrace the power and entertainment value of his story even if they don't believe it. Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is no longer considered a lonely spinster constantly being admonished for her lack of husband and is instead married with a daughter and a fulfilling career as a Ranger. Pete is the biggest improvement because the film takes the time to fully develop his character so that we can understand his motivations and relate to them. Even the film's "villain" Gavin (Karl Urban) comes off as misguided and ultimately redeemable. Great performances from the cast, especially Fegley, bring these characters to life and let us experience familiar feelings through them.
Pete’s Dragon has a timeless charm that manages to be enchanting and engaging. Even though some of the characters might not be completely representative of most of America, their metaphoric ideals and emotional struggles are. The idea that family can come in any shape, form or color is especially powerful and what turns Pete’s Dragon into a new American classic. Ultimately, we're all just stories in the end and this film encourages you to be one that inspires.
Quality: ★★★★ (4/5 stars) Queerness: ★★★ (3/6 Kinseys) While there is an overwhelming feeling of acceptance in the film, there is no specific social commentary. Like the original story of the X-Men, the problems our all white heroes faces from society are meant to be a metaphor for the greater, more diverse problems faced in the real world. In that way, Pete’s Dragon sends a good message that children need to hear, but not with enough specificity for them to apply it to their lives.