In a summer full of remakes and sequels, Disney’s latest live-action take on an animated classic exudes a breath of fresh mountain air and leads us to believe in Elliot, the Millhaven Dragon.
The first few minutes of the film give it a PG rating in one of the most traumatizing Disney moments since Bambi’s momma was shot but the rest of the film is as family-friendly as one could ask for. When little Pete (Levi Alexander) finds himself alone in the woods surrounded by wolves, he’s saved by a green, furry friend who keeps him safe. During the intervening six years, Pete (Oakes Fegley) and Elliot form a bond that anyone who has ever loved a pet will understand. Their relationship is such that, emotionally, Pete is not in need of anything…except a family where he can belong.
Boy Meets People
Mr. Meacham (an absolutely delightful Robert Redford) tells tales to the town’s kids about a dragon he saw one time, far into the forest. His grown-up daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), reminds the kids that in all her years as a forest ranger, she has never seen a dragon. One day when Grace is in the forest with her logger boyfriend, Jack (Wes Bentley), and his daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence), they find Pete who has come to investigate the strange sounds made by chain saws.
People Meet Dragon
When they bring Pete into town, he’s the typical fish-out-of-water. He escapes the hospital but begs Grace to take him home to Elliot. In the meantime, Elliot goes crazy looking for Pete. When he finds him at Grace and Jack’s home where Jack is reading to Pete and Natalie, Elliot sees the writing on the wall. The next day, Pete introduces them to Elliot, only to open him up to the fairly mild villain of the story, Gavin (Karl Urban), Jack’s brother.
Pete’s Dragon delights in every way possible. The sweetness of the kids in the story and the genuine, loving family atmosphere that seduces Pete back to human company makes the film a joy to experience.
Adult Role Models
In some kid-focused films such as The Boxtrolls, parents or adults in general are made to look like fools. Not so with Pete’s Dragon. The adults here are caring, loving people who make the right decisions in the end, even Gavin. Although the family unit made up of Grace, Jack, and Natalie may not be ideal according to Catholic teaching, the love happening there is true. Although Pete has experienced a certain kind of love in his friendship with Elliot, Pete knows he belongs with this family, even though staying with them means saying goodbye to Elliot.
The film also comments on the nature of faith. When Mr. Meacham tells the kids about the dragon, Grace looks at him askance. He lets them know that Grace only believes in what she can see but she’s poorer for it. Through faith, Meacham confides to the kids, those who believe have “a leg up” compared to those who do not.