REVIEW / FANTASY
PETE'S DRAGON (PG)
103 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars
The story: After his parents die in a car crash, Pete (Oakes Fegley as the 11-year-old and Levi Alexander as the five-year-old at the time of the accident) comes face to face with a dragon that he names Elliott. Six years later, the forest they live in is being cleared and lumberjack Gavin (Karl Urban) leads an expedition to track down Elliott. Meanwhile, park ranger Grace Meacham's (Bryce Dallas Howard) maternal instinct is aroused when she comes across Pete. A remake of the 1977 musical live-action/ animated film of the same name.
The animated dragon in the 1977 film was goofy-looking with a mop of red hair and an impressive belly. For this live-action flick, Elliott has been completely reimagined.
While audiences today might be more familiar with the scaly, reptilian creatures of the fantasy television blockbuster Game Of Thrones or the movie series adaptation of The Hobbit (2012- 2014), moviegoers get quite a different kind of dragon in this feel-good family film.
Elliott is green and furry and behaves like an overgrown puppy, be it bolting through the forest with abandon or chasing after his tail.
Little details, such as the coat of fur being ruffled by the wind and a prominent chipped fang, help to bring him to life.
Thankfully, the film-makers resisted giving a speaking voice to the dragon, who communicates through expressive grunts and growls.
What makes the film tick is Oakes Fegley as Pete and the connection that he has with Elliott.
While he seems to have a remarkable command of English despite being essentially raised by an animal, the little boy touchingly mimics the dragon by howling when he is upset.
Bryce Dallas Howard, who recently faced down nastier creatures in Jurassic World (2015), provides maternal warmth, while screen legend Robert Redford plays her father, who once encountered Elliott, with a twinkle in his eye.
With the trigger-happy Gavin, writer-director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, 2013) seems to be taking aim at how man's first instinct, when confronted with the unknown, is to pick up a gun and shoot at it.
Still, it is safe for parents to take their little ones to watch Pete's Dragon.
The bigger lessons in this sweet and gentle film are about the family you make, the ties that bind and the fact that you can be a good friend, regardless of your size.