Apart from Pete and his dragon, there’s little fans of the 1977 classic (but admittedly flawed) film will recognize. And truth be told, that’s a very good thing.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t tip its hat to the original (musical) movie. There is a nod to it right off the bat, as we first meet Pete (Levi Alexander) in the year 1977, a five-year-old off on a road trip adventure with his parents, learning to read his favorite book, “Elliot Gets Lost.”
Tragedy finds Pete alone, chased from the scene of the crash by wolves, only to be rescued by (you guessed it), a dragon who Pete names Elliot. At this point in the film I’d realized I really should have brought a box (or two) of tissues.
Six years later, Pete (Oakes Fegley) is spotted by a young girl named Michelle (Oona Lawrence) who chases after this mysterious forest boy, and is in turn chased by her father, Jack (Wes Bentley), forest ranger/soon to be mother-in-law, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), and uncle, Gavin (Karl Urban).
Pete’s knocked unconscious in the pursuit and hospitalized (with the best of intentions). His only concern upon waking is finding Elliot. And when Pete presents a drawing of Elliot, Grace recalls the stories her father (Robert Redford) has shared of his own encounter years ago with such a creature. The lore of the dragon in this town has just about everyone (including a few trigger happy loggers) ready to believe in this magical being.
That’s what struck me most about this film was the theme of trust, belief, and patience. Even the “villain” of the piece, Gavin, has no problem believing in the dragon and goes directly to his brother for help after first encountering the “beast.” And the natural patience and curiosity of Michelle when helping Pete adjust to life outside the woods is truly touching.
Then there’s Pete who’s never treated as a lost child, but as what he is—incredibly brave. His relationship with Elliot is one that anyone who’s ever loved a pet will recognize, but it’s clear that their connection goes even deep than that.
It’s well done in a way that makes it not only one of the best movies of the summer, but of the year. And as much as it hurt my childhood soul that “Candle on the Water” was cut from this reimagining. The film does nod to the story’s musical origins in a clever way, incorporating “The Dragon Song” as part of the dragon mythology.
Everything about this movie is beautiful, from the setting of the northern woodlands to the insane animation of Elliot and a wonderful story that’s thoughtful, sweet, and original.