Disney have been on a winning streak with their recent live-action remakes, from Maleficent to Cinderella to the astounding The Jungle Book earlier this year. Now, the second of the studio's two big 2016 films, Pete's Dragon, is here, but can it soar the skies or does it crash and burn?

The Summer movie season has been pretty underwhelming and, for the most part, quite disappointing this year. Aside from a few really great films, most of the releases have been below-par or nothing more than competent and forgettable. However, like The Jungle Book before it, starting the Summer off with a bang, Disney have delivered another delight with Pete's Dragon, closing it out with a bang too. There's a line that Robert Redford's old and wise Meacham says about half way through the film, when talking about his first encounter with Elliot, the titular beast, saying, "there's only one word that expresses it: magic." It's this line that best encapsulates and expresses Disney's latest live-action reboot: magic. This is a magical, wondrous and heartwarming tale of friendship from start to finish; echoing some of the classic friendship stories like Toy Story and E.T. For such a HUGE, contemporary, tour de force of a studio, its refreshing to see such a small, old-school tale.
The film opens in traditional Disney style, tugging at the heartstrings, with the eponymous Pete (Oakes Fegley) as a little boy, on "an adventure" with his parents. However, after their car crashes, Pete is left all alone in the woods. Scared and confused, he runs off and bumps into the forest's mythical green dragon. Also alone and departed from his family, the creature - who Pete later names Elliot, inspired from one of his favourite books - befriends the little boy and they live and survive together for 6 years. In the small town nearby, Mr. Meacham (Redford) tells the tale of his one encounter with the mighty and supposed dragon from his youth. Taking it with a pinch of salt, his daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), dismisses the stories as nothing more than a made up fairytale and folklore. Although, when she stumbles across Pete in the forest one day, everything she ever believed (or didn't, in this case) is challenged when she tries to find out who he is and just where he came from - especially when he starts claiming he has been living with a dragon, which soon heads out in search of his friend when the humans take him back.

What makes Pete's Dragon so special is that it is basically a small, almost indie film in a big, blockbuster's body. Despite being a well-budgeted film from the biggest studio out there, it feels very small-scaled. Where the film lacks in extravagant sequences, it makes up with heart; Pete's Dragon is a reboot that is full of heart and spirit and energy - making it more in common with the likes of other Summer films like Sing Street and Midnight Special, rather than the bloated Ghostbusters and Jason Bourne. There is a magical feel and tone to the proceedings that keep this light and wondrous and enchanting. It's a very simplistic movie too; the premise is simple and the characters are all simple - however, not necessarily bad. At the core of Pete's Dragon is the relationship between Pete and Elliot and it's their friendship that elevates this film above the rest. We find ourselves quickly invested in the pair and rooting for them to succeed and heartbroken when they find themselves apart. Despite Elliot being a dragon, there's something very real and authentic about their friendship and it adds a lot of levity to the proceedings, portrayed so beautifully and tenderly.
Oakes Fegley also gives one of the best child performances I've seen in a while, helping convey and ground that friendship so well (especially if you consider Elliot is a CG creation and Fegley had to, in effect, sell it himself). The stellar supporting cast all give good performances too; their characters aren't quite as fleshed out and well realised as Pete and Elliot and they're fairly simplistic but they also work for the story and the film. Karl Urban is good as Gavin but I feel as though the story tries too hard to portray him as an actual antagonist as we approach the latter half of the film, whereas his character arc would have benefitted without that. Robert Redford and Wes Bentley are also fine, if a little underused, and Oona Laurence follows up her remarkable work in Southpaw well, giving another strong performnace here. However, outside of Fegley, its Bryce Dallas Howard that steals the show as Grace. There's a sense of relatability to her character and the actress quickly wins us over with her big heart and charisma. There is some great, palpable chemistry between the ensemble here too and it's fun to watch all these characters interact as the story begins to unfold.

Pete's Dragon is a genuine delight from start to finish. This is a reboot that actually takes the original source material and elevates it and is better than the original. This is Disney at its strongest, delivering quality family entertainment that is big on heart and charm and emotion. The visuals are stunning and it's easy to believe that Elliot is a real creature, as we quickly find ourselves enthralled in the film and enchanted by it all. Where the film falters is perhaps in just how insignificant and simplistic some of the secndary characters feel and, also, for such a "small-scaled" film, the finale veers into blockbuster territory and whilst its an entertaining sequence to watch, it definitely feels a little misplaced from the rest of the picture. Yet, even then, it can't take away from the magic of Pete's Dragon. It's one of the best films of the year.

The words "movie magic" best describe Pete's Dragon, a truly wondrous and remarkable piece of cinema that is so laden with love and craft, making for one of Disney's most charming, heartfelt and necessary remakes yet - far superior in every way than the original. Simply put: one of the best films of the Summer.


About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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