The original Pete’s Dragon featured top-billed Helen Reddy, whose song Candle on the Water was getting constant airplay on FM radio. Mickey Rooney, “Red” Buttons and Jim Dale (the future narrator for the Harry Potter audiobooks) attempted to upstage each other, but still took second fiddle to the animated dragon named Elliott. After many unmemorable musical numbers and stilted family sentimentality, the film finally ends.
The new Pete’s Dragon is a far superior motion picture. The emphasis is on story, character development and realistic visualization of a fantastic subject matter. The film opens with pre-school aged Pete learning how to read in the backseat of a car. After his mother and father proclaim Pete as a brave boy, the car crashes into the forest. After shedding a few tears, Pete encounters a dragon and names him Elliott, after a character in his easy reader.
Six years later, Jack (Wes Bentley) and Gavin (Karl Urban) are lumberjacks who notice unusual occurrences in the forest. The lumberjack brothers consult with Forest Ranger Grace Meacham, whose father (Robert Redford) tells folktales about the time he met a dragon. Myth becomes reality.
While there are echoes of Lassie Come Home, ET the Extraterrestrial and King Kong, Pete’s Dragon stands on its own modern achievement. There is a freshness to this motion picture that makes it unpredictable. There is message about the importance of conserving the environment; however, it is not heavy-handed.
Besides providing the opening and closing narration, Redford plays a character that echoes his best work, most notably The Horse Whisperer and Urban Cowboy. With a gift for gab and wood carving, Redford’s Meacham reminded me of my father.
Having battled dinosaurs as a corporate executive in Jurassic World, Bryce Dallas Howard plays a much more appealing role. Currently on the big screen as Dr. McCoy in Star Trek Beyond, Urban takes on the most villainous role, but he is really not much of a bad guy.
The box office for Pete’s Dragon has been disappointing. I hope word-of-mouth drives this motion picture to pick up. This is a pure family motion picture that is both sweet and simple. While there is no profanity and scenes that will embarrass grandparents, Pete’s Dragon is filled will plenty of action, adventure and good acoustic music.