Pete's Dragon

 

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When lumberjacks start cutting down the forest, a most surprising secret is revealed….

 

Pete's Dragon

A walk in the woods: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford and Oona Laurence are amazed

 

It’s been quite a year for bare-chested lads living in the undergrowth. First there was Mowgli, then Tarzan, and now Pete. And they’ve all been recycled in the cinema firmament, with Pete first appearing in Disney’s 1977 musical, Pete’s Dragon, with the all-singing Helen Reddy. This is a Disney remake, without the songs, and with a significant shift in the narrative details.

 

Pete is just five-years-old when he learns the word ‘adventure,’ seconds before his parents’ car swerves to avoid a deer and ends up on its roof. Pete is left abandoned in the woods, but is quickly adopted by a Big Friendly Dragon who, like the octopus Hank in Finding Dory, can blend into his background to the point of becoming invisible. Maybe that’s why nobody has seen him before, except for the tale-spinning Mr Meacham, the world’s youngest 79-year-old (Robert Redford, brought in for environmental ballast). He is the father of forest ranger Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard) who only believes what she sees. Then, one day, she stumbles across Pete, who is now ten-years-old and, inexplicably, still in one piece. Of course, he hasn’t been living in the woods alone. He’s had a friend to look after him…

 

Grown-up viewers may have problems with the implausibility of this premise – or the fact that Pete’s best friend looks like a giant stuffed animal – but then this is aimed at very young children, kids who can still believe in dragons. And it’s a well-intentioned sermon, berating the need for Americans with guns to destroy anything that is extraordinary and new. The main villainy is passed over to Karl Urban, probably because he was so convincing as the cold-blooded assassin in The Bourne Supremacy. For warmth, we have Bryce Dallas Howard, who was born to provide a spoonful of sugar for Disney, in spite of having previously worked with Lars von Trier. As the older Pete, Oakes Fegley is suitably endearing, and with his long hair and wide-eyed wonderment is not unlike the younger Jacob Tremblay, who, in Room, was also faced with the strangeness of a brave new world. But the message is clear: if you start barrelling into the protected wilderness you don’t know what dragons you will unleash.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Robert Redford, Oona Laurence, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

 

Dir David Lowery, Pro James Whitaker, Screenplay David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks, Ph Bojan Bazelli, Pro Des Jade Healy, Ed Lisa Zeno Churgin, Music Daniel Hart, Costumes Amanda Neale.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/Whitaker Entertainment-Walt Disney.

102 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 12 August 2016. Cert. PG.