Disclaimer, I never saw the original. Obviously, I’ve heard of it, but never actually saw it. Don’t even know what it’s about, so I’m going into this without anything to compare it with (I’ll probably catch it online somewhere).
Actors: I adore Bryce Dallas Howard. Say what you want about her past work, I think she’s a solid actress and wasn’t given a real shot until JURASSIC WORLD, which I loved her in. To see her continue in a leading capacity makes me really happy. Robert Redford, serious class right there. Oona Laurence, whom many may recognize from such movies as SOUTHPAW (2015) and BAD MOMS, which is still out in theatres. Guess this girl is gaining some popularity, huh? Good. She’s actually a really talented young actress and I hope she keeps getting good stuff to work with. Just keep that head of yours grounded, girl. Wes Bentley, now there’s a talented actor. Y’all should know this guy from AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999), THE HUNGER GAMES (2012), and briefly in INTERSTELLAR (2014). Finally, the creme de la creme, the one and only, Karl Urban. Do I need to introduce this man? No, but for those out there who aren’t as savvy as I am about his career: DREDD (2012), all three recent Star Trek films, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004), and so many more movies. I like to think that anything that has this man in it is in for a great performance.
The director and co-writer of this flick is David Lowery, who has mostly done only short films, but the only sort-of-big project he’s directed in the past was AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS (2013), which has some big name actors in there, like Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, and Ben Foster. Beyond that, this will definitely be his biggest and most recognized project. His partner-in-writing is Toby Halbrooks, whom has definitely only worked on short films in the past. But we should still congratulate him as he is announced to be writing PETER PAN, yet another live-action adaptation of the classic fairy tale. Here’s hoping it’s in good hands.
I think I’m going in to this movie thinking it’s going to be pretty solid. But it’s clear that if it ends up not being so good, Lowery and Halbrooks might need to be held responsible as the first two reasons for bad acting is a bad script and bad direction. But I remain optimistic. This is my honest opinion of PETE’S DRAGON (2016).
Pete (Oaks Fegley) is an eleven year old boy living in the woods. Six years ago, his family was killed in a car accident and he’s only managed to stay alive for so long with the help of his green dragon that he names Elliot. But their carefree isolation isn’t meant to last as people from the nearby town get closer, cutting down trees for a family mill, run by a kindly man named Jack (Wes Bentley). But even closer to discovering Pete and Elliot is Jack’s fiance, as well as the ranger for the woods, named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), does just that. A misunderstanding later and Pete is accidentally injured and taken to a hospital to recover, as well as attempt to reintegrate back into society with the help of Jack’s daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence). But Elliot is in trouble too, as Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) comes into contact with the dragon and decides to hunt the creature. Pete must now not only try and protect his friend, but discover that he might miss what he’s been missing out on for six years of his life.
This was so good! But I think a lot of the reasons why I really liked this movie is because I went in expecting to suspend a great deal of disbelief.
I think I’ll start with what probably didn’t work as a whole, since I kind of want to rave about how good it was. Some of the suspension of disbelief does work against it. When you hear an unnatural roar in the distance, any real person would acknowledge it instead of dismissing it. For example, there’s a scene where Elliot will roar in the distance because he can’t find Pete, who’s being brought to the hospital. That roar is heard for miles and while Gavin and Jack are talking, Gavin hears the roar and acts like a normal person does; he acknowledges it and is promptly both curious and freaked out. But Jack, nope, that’s a run-of-the-mill mysterious roar made by a creature you’ll probably just chalk up to being a bear, even though no bear roars that loudly.
It also kind of bugged me that Elliot is shown to breathe fire only at the end of the movie. Like any smart movie featuring a character with powers of some kind will usually showcase their abilities very early on in the story to establish what they can and cannot do. By adding powers too late into the movie, even if they’re just hinted to have them, there leaves some questions, like, “Why didn’t he breathe fire in this scene? Could’ve been helpful.” And upon looking back at the movie, yeah, there were some scenes where fire-breathing would have been nifty.
Finally, I do kind of think it’s a cheat for the movie to change its mind at the last second to make the “bad guy” of the story more morally ambiguous. Okay, so Gavin is definitely built up to be the antagonist of the story who wants to capture or kill Elliot, right? This is made obvious when he makes executive decisions to cut trees much deeper into the forest than was contractually agreed upon and doesn’t seem to care too much. But then joins the group of folks that first encounter Pete and is the one that accidentally knocked him out needing medical attention. It’s clear that he didn’t mean to do that and it was a legit accident, but the story still gives him a rifle and a chip on his shoulder, so it’s hard to feel a whole lot of sympathy for him when he just mindlessly hunting a dragon. Any other actor though, and I would call this a cardinal sin, but because I has a man-crush on Urban and my heart melts when he has his, “I screwed up, I’m sorry” look.
That’s about it for all the negatives I had. But before I jump into my love for the movie, let me quickly ask a question to anyone that has already seen, or is planning on seeing this movie. Did you know this movie takes place in the early 80’s? I mean, jeez, did I miss the subtitle that said the date of when this story takes place?
Whatever, it’s time to dive into the meat of my review.
I think the young stars deserve the first of my attention. I had forgotten (somehow) to talk about Fegley up top, so I’ll do that now. He’s got some surprisingly awesome credits to his name, including such TV shows PERSON OF INTEREST and BOARDWALK EMPIRE. While I’m not able to attest to his acting from those shows, I can safely say that this kid should go places after this movie. This kid brings wonderful energy to his role as Pete and carries the film pretty well as a Tarzan-like kid (in fact, he kind of looks like the live-action version of the animated Disney film) who’s had very limited to no interaction with other people. He’s a wild kid, but he’s not dangerous. He doesn’t understand things, but he doesn’t get upset when his mistakes are pointed out. Similar to how Thor was treated in THOR (2011), he’s smart enough to accept how things are in this new world and adapts. Although I guess what makes Pete a slightly more compelling character, he thrives and even embraces what he sees. You see his arch as he learns to let the life he’d known all this time go and desires a life with a real family, but never forgets his own love of Elliot.
Oh, and Laurence is okay. Doh alright, I won’t be so nonchalant about that. Yes, Laurence is very good as usual, but unless she gets a role like in SOUTHPAW that really challenges her, I don’t think she’s going to be cast as anything more than the cute kid. Don’t get me wrong, she plays it well, but after such a strong performance, it’s almost sad to see her in something so… basic. I know that’s not her fault. Hell, it’s probably not even her agent’s fault. Amazing kid roles are, what, once every ten blue moons? Does that sound like a totally accurate calculation? I had teams of scientists and physicists to do the math for me. Don’t ask me why the physicists were needed! They just were! Don’t question greatness! It was painstaking, but I think with perseverance and the sacrifice of blood and sweat, we know for a cold hard fact that good kid roles are once every ten blue moons. Hashtag, yeah science!
Bottom line, someone write a script that gets Laurence an Oscar, please. Just… please.
How about Elliot? Now, having not yet seen the original (aside from watching Youtube’s CinemaSins on the movie), I can probably imagine that Elliot from that movie is little more than a gimmick, rather than be an actual character with a defined personality. This Elliot is exactly that. Of course, he’s a gentle giant. But more than that, he’s Pete’s protector, which is something he takes very seriously. Not even just him, but his personal belongings as well. Elliot is also very playful and a loyal friend to Pete. He has big expressive eyes, which makes for some rather dramatic scenes when he witnesses that Pete might actually find a new home with other humans and has to cope with life alone again. You can easily feel for the poor guy. I also love his design. Obviously, they keep his signature green color, but update his look to be more furry. I think his fur makes him stand out from other iconic kids movie dragons like Toothless from the How to Train Your Dragon films. He’s also not entirely kid-friendly. That’s not to say he kills anyone in the movie or anything, but he’s no push-over. He’ll roar angrily and defend himself if he’s threatened. Definitely a big difference compared to the original Elliot that just played pranks. But there’s even some fun little throwbacks to his previous design as well. You’ll probably notice that Elliot’s hand-drawn counterpart is usually depicted with a single bottom tooth in his mouth. While this new Elliot has more teeth, he does have a single noticeable tooth that juts out of his mouth. The tooth on the opposite side of his mouth you might notice is chipped. I thought that was pretty clever.
And now for miss Howard. *knuckle cracking* Bravo. Seriously, this her best performance yet. Oh my god, I fell in love with her in this role. Grace is a forest ranger trying to protect the forest. She’s ventured here and there and everywhere, but never once came into contact with either Pete or Elliot. In fact, she maintains that the myths of the dragon is just an old wives tale, but doesn’t consider her father, Meacham (Robert Redford), who’s claimed to have encountered Elliot before, to be crazy. Just a harmless, silly old man. But the moment she meets Pete, she develops this wonderfully mother-like care for Pete. You see her heart break when she learns about what happened to Pete’s family. You see her fears and dread (not a Karl Urban pun) when she sees the Child Protective Services car at the police station. And that ending… I got legit choked up, guys. Howard had me this close to crying like a baby. I know you can’t see my finger gestures right now because this isn’t a video review, but trust me, my index finger is SUPER close to my thumb.
If it isn’t painfully obvious, I loved this movie. The further along in the review I got, the more I wanted to see this movie a second time. Despite the nitpicks I can’t bring myself to let that ruin what I feel is a well-told story about this boy and his dragon. Maybe I’m a sucker for these kind of stories, but I do highly recommend this, even for adults. Is it perfect? Maybe not, but it’s still one heck of heart-warming story with an incredibly satisfying ending that will definitely get a second viewing from me before it leaves theatres.
My honest rating of PETE’S DRAGON (2016): 5/5
- SAUSAGE PARTY
- red band trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7fP9q_LyDc
- FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS
- trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HszfdNS0JSc
Upcoming hopeful review:
- HELL OR HIGH WATER
- trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQoqsKoJVDw