If you are looking for a remake of the 1977 Disney musical “Pete’s Dragon,” you are in the wrong place. Disney’s 2016 film shares a title with the 1977 film and that’s about it. This is not necessarily a criticism, as I rated the original with 5 stars and feel that this rendition offers a stronger story and a more timeless feel that will help it to age better. I’m sure that fans of the classic are offended that this reboot is actually a complete rewrite from the time period (1900’s to 1980’s) and location (New England to Pacific Northwest) to the characters (Pete is now a non-verbal jungle boy) and a story that bears no resemblance to the original. Even the mood is a complete departure with the story being told as a straightforward drama, supported by a breathtaking score by Daniel Hart that creates some highly emotional moments. But I believe that Disney saved the character of Elliot the dragon from fading into obscurity by giving him a medium in which he can be appreciated by a new generation. Disney has been an innovator in the film industry since Walt first started mixing live action footage with cartoons in the 1920’s, but we live in a time where the seamless incorporation of a cartoon dragon into a live-action story can’t get audiences excited. Instead, Disney decided to incorporate an animated dragon into a live-action story (wait a second…) While the concept is the same, an important part of innovation is adjusting to the times in which you live. Disney knew that modern audiences thirst for realism and this film thrills us by making us feel as if we’ve truly seen a dragon. I love that Disney maintained the general appearance of this giant, lovable green dragon when they transformed him from intentionally cartoony to completely realistic. It serves as a reminder that the most important part of each story is the bond between boy and dragon. The story does not stray too far from your typical child-befriends-something-odd plot but I didn’t mind the predictability too much. One of the main things that is missing is “Candle on the Water.” I’m fine with them removing the musical numbers from the film but I believe that they could have found a clever way to incorporate the song into the story as a tribute to the original. I really thought it was coming when one character referenced a song that they used to sing, which made it even more disappointing when it turned out to be another song. The acting was probably the film’s biggest letdown. After being blown away by recent performances from Jacob Tremblay in "Room" and Neel Sethi in "The Jungle Book," Oakes Fegley's turn as Pete seemed to lack the emotional depth that I have come to expect out of child actors. Robert Redford is good, which is contrasted by Bryce Dallas Howard who is average and Karl Urban who comes off as an overactor. A more sinister villain may have helped to enhance our emotions, though the capture scene was pretty brutal. Kids will enjoy this complete reimagining of “Pete’s Dragon” more than adults, but I’m always thankful for a quality, clean film that all members of the family can enjoy together.
[Pictured: The best part of the film is clearly the impressive animation of the dragon]