Star Rating:

Pete's Dragon

Director: David Lowery

Actors: Robert Redford, Karl Urban

Release Date: Friday 12th August 2016

Genre(s): Adventure

Running time: TBC minutes

When five-year-old Pete (Fegley) wanders lost in the woods after a car accident kills his parents, he is befriended by a dragon that he christens Elliot. The two live secretly deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest for six years until the now feral Pete is discovered by park ranger Grace (Dallas Howard), who takes him home to live with her fiancé (Wes Bentley) and his daughter (Oona Laurence). But just as Pete experiences the 'real' family love he has long since forgotten, the lonely Elliot is hunted by logger Gavin (Urban).

Owing a debt of gratitude to Spielberg's ET and Brad Bird's The Iron Giant, this remake of the 1977 Disney movie no one really remembers doesn't have enough fairy dust to sprinkle over the kid/magical creature formula*. The characters are paper thin with only Robert Redford doing the Old Coot thing - he saw a dragon when he was young and now scares the local kids with the legend – the only one with any meat on its bones. And what it has to say about the Nuclear Family is underdeveloped.

But all that would be forgiven if it could just put the kid and the dragon in enough danger: Karl Urban's logger and his tranquilizer gun just doesn't have the same impact as an army with nuclear weapons (The Iron Giant) or spooky government agents and scientists skulking about the neighbourhood (ET). Ditto the connection between Pete and Elliot: despite spending six years in the forest together Pete and Elliot don't exhibit the same connection as Elliot and ET or Hogarth and the Giant (perhaps it's because unlike ET and the Giant, Elliot doesn't speak).

Apologies for banging on about Spielberg-Bird films (How To Train Your Dragon, Free Willy and Monster's Inc., which has the same dynamic but in reverse, would be some other examples) but that's the standard here and Pete's Dragon comes up short. A surprise considering director David Lowery could weave the mystical, us-against-the-world relationship that dominated his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints so easily.

But it is a sweet thing - kids should love the Falkor-like dragon and will delight in his secretly bobbing about the town in search of Pete. Dallas Howard, Bentley and Urban do what they can to make their characters come alive, and the opening sequence is one of the best to grace a childrens' movie in some time.

*Formula includes some, if not all, of the following…

- Kid and magical creature form a bond.

- Just as kid convinces people that magical creature is good, it's captured by bad guy(s).

- In an effort to defend itself, creature lashes out and accidentally causes mayhem, thus proving that bad guy(s) was right in hunting it down.

- Kid convinces good guys that creature is really genuinely good. Really.

- Cue escape, chase and tearful goodbye.