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Pete’s Dragon Is Warm, Fuzzy, And Refreshingly Simple

For many children raised in the ’70s and/or ’80s, Pete’s Dragon was a tear-jerking rite of passage. Running at least half an hour longer than it should have and overflowing with abrasive, offputting characters, this live action/animation hybrid managed to win over youngsters with its lovable title character and poignant finale. If you have childhood memories of Pete’s Dragon, there’s a good chance you remember it fondly, but the last 39 years have not been kind to this Disney oddity.

With that in mind, director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) faced a unique challenge in remaking this flawed family favourite: how do you live up to a movie that doesn’t live up to itself? Rather than embrace some kind of elaborate new concept, Lowery has wisely chosen to simply keep what worked (the cute dragon, his heartfelt bond with Pete) and discard everything else (the cast of caricatures, the bloated running time, the awkward clash of live action and animation). The result is an unapologetically straightforward family film that delivers an emotional high worthy of the Pete’s Dragon you remember.

Bryce Dallas Howard is Grace and Robert Redford is Mr. Meacham in Disney's PETE'S DRAGON, the adventure of a boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just happens to be a dragon.

At the heart of the film’s appeal is its refreshingly uncomplicated narrative. As you may remember, the original Pete’s Dragon starts with the relationship between orphan Pete and his dragon already in progress. Upping the emotional ante, Lowery introduces Pete (Oakes Fegley) a little earlier. As this film begins, the boy is still in the custody of his loving parents, who are quickly dispatched in a car accident. Disappearing into the woods after the crash, Pete grows into adolescence a nature-dwelling wild child whose only real relationship is with a giant green dragon named Elliot.

Years later, Pete is discovered by a large, forest-obsessed family—some are into deforestation, others are into conservation—that has a hard time believing this boy’s tall tales. But when the extended family’s most unhinged member (Karl Urban) finally locates Elliot and captures the cuddly beast, Pete and his new friends are forced to take a series of daring risks—in an effort to secure the dragon’s freedom.

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Earlier this summer, Disney delivered The BFG, arguably the season’s most underrated crowd-pleaser. In Pete’s Dragon, the studio tells another story of a loner child’s relationship with a warm-hearted giant. While Pete’s Dragon lacks the detail or imagination of Steven Spielberg’s latest, it delivers a more resonant emotional punch, thanks to its timely environmentalism and Elliot himself. A misunderstood monster in the spirit of King Kong or Frankenstein, this dragon looks like a cross between a tauntaun and Falkor from The NeverEnding Story. A lovable creature isn’t much to hang a film on, but like Alfonso Cuarón’s A Little Princess, this is a tastefully restrained family film that should propel its promising young director to bigger and better things.

Pete’s Dragon arrives in theatres today. For a big, fuzzy green preview of the title character, watch the trailer below.

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