Pete’s Dragon has potential to be the final sendoff for young children”

by Steve Pulaski

Perhaps if I wasn’t already spoiled with the immersive visuals and quirky, eclectic characters of The Jungle Book this same year, Disney’s live-action remake of the forgotten 1977 musical Pete’s Dragon would feel more like a treat. The Jungle Book combined a wide variety of adventure, peril, and character relations to make for a strong mix of blockbuster fun and intimate, fully realized moments. Its ambition stretched far beyond its narrative, and even its visuals in some respect, to provide you with a lot of unbridled energy.

Pete’s Dragon main goal seems to be trying to make the audiences tear up, as evident by its heavily used orchestration soundtrack that amplifies every emotional moment in the film, as well as continuing to push the idea of a feral boy who’s only solace is one extraordinary friend – a device that is ever-so closer to becoming a cliche. Through all its visual wonderment and frequent moments of touching sincerity, there is also evident insincerity in the way it pushes a great deal of manufactured emotions thanks to its score, its portrait-esque color palette, its emphasis on Pete’s bulging eyes filled with childhood innocence, and so forth. It’s a good way to take someone out of a potentially great motion picture.

Pete’s Dragon
Directed by
David Lowery
Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley
Release Date
12 August 2016
Steve’s Grade: B

As indicated, the film revolves around a young boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley), whose parents died in a car accident with him on-board on their way to a family vacation. Since then, Pete has lived in the woods where they crashed ever since, being discovered by a large green dragon named Elliot shortly after the accident. Pete and Elliot have lived together ever since, and Elliot’s ability to turn invisible has helped him hide from other passersby. One day, however, a forest ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) stumbles upon Pete, and soon after, Elliot, which quickly prompts efforts to put Pete in foster care and capture Elliot. The only person who makes an effort to truly understand Pete is Grace’s daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence). Then there’s Grace’s happy, storytelling father Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford in another beautifully subdued performance), who is known in the neighborhood for his fantastical stories of dragons and spectacle.

The majority of the film concerns Pete trying to be reunited with Elliot and continue living off the land. The problem is that once the whole town becomes aware of Elliot’s existence, a great deal of the intimate magic between Pete and his only friend in the world is lost. Elliot was the one who taught him how to live off the land, overcome his fears, and be brave in the face of untold danger. Now, with all the eyes turned on him and his friend, things haven’t been the same for him nor his once-quiet, “normal” life.

Pete’s Dragon shows how a relationship between two people (or man and beast) can work beautifully if everyone else minds their own relationships, and how sometimes, when too many hands become entangled in the same pot, a certain, irreparable mess can unfold. On that note, combined with its wonderful long-shots involving Pete riding on Elliot or Elliot riding off into the sunset, it’s a truly beautiful film. On another, however, the film is overwrought with emotional manipulation, constantly trying to squeeze tears or some kind of emotion our of you artificially rather than by way of trusting that the audience is human, equipped with basic human emotions.

You can always sense emotional manipulation when climactic scenes come equipped with everything from a generally soft-colored or intimately colored picture, in addition to orchestration music that is both melodic and evokes a certain mood of doom, sorrow, or another highly evident emotion. Pete’s Dragon utilizes this method of emotional relevance continuously, but most brazenly during its final act, which does well at diminishing whatever kind of natural emotional power it had to begin with.

In a summer riddled with disappointing movies both big and small, financially and critically, Pete’s Dragon has potential to be the final sendoff for young children, in addition to Kubo and the Two Strings next weekend, before they begin heading back to school. With that in mind, it serves as a fairly peaceful closing to a summer filled with the hyped, frantic animated efforts provided by both Pixar and Illumination this summer. Unlike the film’s respective climax, this film does a fairly solid job at beginning to close the curtain on another summer at the movies.