I was going to love Pete’s Dragon. No matter what critics said or didn’t say, I was going to love it. That said, I didn’t think I would love it as much as I did. For starters, there is no singing which is my favorite part of the original film. Some of my all-time favorite Disney music comes out of the original Pete’s Dragon. And secondly, Elliot was…different. I remember the first trailer and just sort of sitting there until I could spit out, “wait…Elliot has FUR?!” I adored the animated pink and green dragon of the original (my first car that I paid for, which was blue, was named for him. Yeah, I don’t know either. I just loved the character that much). So, while I knew I would still love it because of reasons, I didn’t expect to be quite as enchanted as I was.
Luckily, I was primed for the big difference because of a review I read last Friday before I went to see it. They talked about how it was a quiet film, one that harkened back to some of the classic childhood films like E.T. There are action scenes but the real story is the family, the relationships, the growing pains the main characters feel; not the explosions or chase scenes. It reminded me of my favorite live action Disney films when I was younger: the original Escape to Witch Mountain, The Apple Dumpling Gang, even The Parent Trap. It wasn’t loud, overcomplicated, or silly to the point of ridiculousness. They were usually about a kid, or a group of kids, just trying to find a place to belong and the friends they make along the way.
This new version of Pete’s Dragon is gorgeous; visually stunning. Its time period is slightly non-descript but probably the late 1970s? At one point, I remember thinking “a John Denver song would fit well here.” It’s harkening back to what seemed like a much simpler time, a safer time, though villains still lurk. The villain of misunderstanding, of fear, of ambition. Those people who must destroy what they do not understand. The worst kind of villain to me; the kind I wish I could just reach into the screen and shake for all I’m worth. Pete’s Dragon has a good one of those here. In the original, the villain is a cartoon in live action; here the villain is someone who is simply afraid and has the power to act on his fear and turn it to his advantage in the town.
For a villain, there must be a hero and Pete lives up to the title. They do maybe hammer it home a bit much (lots of the characters call Pete brave throughout the film) but Pete lives up to the word. His story is heartbreaking on many levels (why he meets Elliot is pretty devastating); but his character is one of curiosity and acceptance so he learns to adapt, to adjust and to thrive. Some will argue I’m sure that the character adjusts too quickly; to which I would remind them it’s an hour and a half movie. He is brave but I don’t think he’s ever thought of himself in those terms. He was simply living. Those he meets in his journey are much like him; curious about the world around them, trying to adjust and accept as the world around them changes. The forest ranger Grace who finds Pete, Grace’s father who swears he saw a dragon in the forest years before, Grace’s fiance and his daughter. Perhaps they are reluctant at first but as the movie builds, they see that a dragon can be a friend, not a foe.
Which brings us to Eliot. The animation is fantastic; at no point does Eliot looks like a cartoon out of place in the film. He blends with his scenery, interacts seamlessly with Pete and the other actors. The fur does make him a bit more cuddly, a bit more approachable and less like a dinosaur out of Jurassic Park so that did the job. But the character remains much the same as the original film; he’s still a bit of goof, clumsy at times, fierce when his friend is in danger and lost when he doesn’t understand something. His relationship with Pete is the heart of the film and honestly, that is what makes it sing.