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Featured Blu-ray and DVD Review: Pete’s Dragon

December 11th, 2016

Pete’s Dragon - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
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Pete’s Dragon

Pete’s Dragon opened in late summer and did well domestically. Had it done as well internationally, then it would have been on pace to break even sometime during its home market run. Sadly, it did much worse internationally. Perhaps this means the movie only did well here due to nostalgia for the original film. Is this the case? Or does the movie work on its own?

The Movie

The film begins with a family traveling to a new home. In the backseat is a five-year old Pete, who is reading a new book about a puppy called Elliot who is going on an adventure. He talks to his parents about what an adventure is. Then they nearly hit a deer and the parents are killed. I’m not joking. We don’t actually see the deaths, obviously, but it is still a really dark way to start the movie. Anyhoo, Pete hears wolves coming and heads into the woods, where loud noises scare off the wolves. We then see the dragon and Pete decides to stay with him.

Six years later, we hear a story being told by Meacham, who tells a group of kids about the time he supposedly met a dragon when he was a boy. He’s interrupted by his daughter, Grace, who is a forest ranger and a little annoyed at her dad scaring kids over tales of make believe dragons. However, we know the dragon is real, because we see a now 11-year old Pete still in the woods being protected by the dragon, who he has named Elliot. Elliot definitely has dog-like qualities to the way it looks and behaves.

After playing in the woods for a while, Pete and Elliot spot Grace in the woods. Fortunately, Elliot can turn invisible, although this is less effective if he doesn’t put down the log. When she puts down her bag to mark a tree, Pete sneaks up and steals her compass. She does hear them, but doesn’t see them. Pete follows her into a logging camp. It’s the weekend, so no one is there, which gives Grace an opportunity to grab the keys from a logging tractor and throw them away. As the other ranger points out, she is engaged to the owner of the lumber mill, Jack, so this is odd behavior, but it’s partially for Gavin, who is the foreman and Jack’s brother, who is less concerned with the environment.

In fact, the next day we see Gavin has taken his team deeper into the forest than he was supposed to and is cutting down trees he’s not allowed to. Grace is understandably upset and yells at Jack when he arrives, who defends Gavin, because they are brothers. Meanwhile, Natalie, Jack's 11-year old daughter, spots Pete in the woods and gives chase. She even climbs up the tree Pete climbed and does so almost as well as he does. She does slip and fall and screams in the process, which brings the adults running and eventually Pete is accidentally knocked unconscious and brought to a hospital.

When Elliot wakes up, he realizes Pete isn’t there, so he goes investigating. He gets close enough to the logging camp that when he accidentally knocks over a tree, he attracts the attention of Gavin and the other loggers, who decide to go hunting for whatever that was. Elliot’s got a plan. He uses his invisibility to sneak up on the loggers, give them a scare, and then turn invisible again and follow them into town to find Pete.

Meanwhile, Pete wakes up in the hospital and his first instinct is to escape. He makes it out of the hospital right away, but Grace catches him and takes him to live with her, Jack, and Natalie. That night, Pete draws a picture of Elliot and when Grace sees it, it looks like the one her father, Meacham, was telling kids about. Gavin made that connection when he was face-to-face with Elliot earlier, although Jack doesn’t buy it.

Does Grace finally believe?

The original Pete’s Dragon is an okay film, but a very forgettable musical. The new Pete’s Dragon does have most of the good qualities of the old film, with some improvements along the way. It drops the musical aspect and has a more grounded nature, or at least is more grounded for a film about a furry dragon. This does mean this film has more emotional heft than the original does. It is still very much a family film, and outside of the prologue, it’s mostly a sweet film that is aimed at kids the same age as Pete and Natalie are in the movie. The old movie does have a more goofy charm to it, so if that’s what you liked about it, then this film might disappoint, but I don’t think that will be the case for most viewers. The new Pete’s Dragon is better technically than the previous version; it should come as no surprise that the special effects are top-notch. Additionally, the acting is also a step up. The acting style in 1970s kids movies was usually not naturalistic like it is today. Granted, that was part of what gave the original film its goofy charm, but I think this won’t work with today’s audiences.

Not to mention less negative stereotypes about hillbillies in the new version of Pete’s Dragon. That’s always a plus.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary track featuring the director / co-writer, David Lowery; the other co-writer, Toby Halbrooks; and the two child stars, Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence. The first featurette is a production diary with David Lowery. Making Magic is a short two-minute look at how they created Elliot the dragon. “Disappearing” Moment is a nine-minute montage of deleted scenes, with introduction, some of which are in various stages of post-production. There are about 90 seconds of outtakes and finally a music video.

The Verdict

Pete’s Dragon isn’t a classic, but it is a (mostly) sweet family film that should appeal to pre-teens and younger. It is good enough that parents will enjoy watching the film with their kids, but it isn’t good enough to draw in adults who don’t have kids. The extras on the DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack are enough to make it a solid purchase, but not enough to be the Pick of the Week.

Filed under: Video Review, Pete’s Dragon, Wes Bentley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban, John Kassir, David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence