By Justin Rev Ino Tamang
Film remakes tend to be overshadowed by stigma. And with the slew of mediocre remakes that had hit theaters, such an opinion seems warranted at times. But the case of Pete’s Dragon is different. Disney overhauls the story of the 1977 film and turns it into a genuinely affecting movie. Among the remakes in recent memory, this is certainly one of the best.
Comparing the remake to the original is inane, because the 2016 version is practically a film of its own. Only the most basic elements are retained from the original – and it feels apt. Now, onto the synopsis:
A car crash in the middle of nowhere sees young Pete orphaned. He ventures into the forest and finds himself face-to-face with a green, fuzzy dragon that becomes his companion and guardian of sorts. For six years, the dragon (whom Pete named Elliott) and Pete have lived peacefully, until Natalie, a girl from the nearby village, spots him in the forest. Pete winds up in the village and everyone tries to find out how a little boy has managed to fend for himself for so long.
There is much fun to be had in the film’s first half. The unlikely duo’s relationship goes beyond that of a pet and its owner. It paints the perfect picture of best friends looking after each other; though for the most part, it’s Elliott looking after Pete. There is mutual affection and concern for each other – and in every sequence, that feeling is palpable. It is this depiction of the Pete-Elliott bond that makes the movie work not just in its fun bits, but also in its dramatic parts.
It connects with its audience with ease, thanks to the compelling story and the amazing performances of the actors. Oakes Fegley’s performance as Pete is full of heart, something which is complemented adequately by Oona Laurence’s Natalie. Both Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford stand out for their phenomenal performances as well.
The film does have weak points, although most of these are minor details. Some inconsistencies with Pete’s knowledge of the modern world right as he comes out of the forest come into mind here. There are also a few problems with the conflict, particularly with the motives and actions of some characters.
These shortfalls make the plot shaky as a whole. But despite its shortcomings, Pete’s Dragon still stands out because of one key strength: the narrative treatment.
It shies away from the typical frenetic vibe modern family films embrace. Instead, it slows down the pace, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the frames. It provides an opportunity to appreciate even the lightest of details in the story. The whole approach is nothing short of beautiful.
Director David Lowery deserves kudos with the careful execution of the narrative. There is gentleness in the approach, thus giving the movie an ample mix of lightheartedness and depth. The way the film is written holds a distinct charm and a natural, unforced flow. The film is full of gentleness even amid some hyped up and dramatic scenes.
All in all, Pete’s Dragon is a brilliant remake that creates a separate identity from its original. The ‘slower’ treatment of the film is brave and, at the same time, effective. It succeeds in evoking emotions from its audience and goes beyond being a CGI-filled frantic family film. Although its plot could be improved, this is a remake that would be pretty difficult to top.