The original Disney production of "Pete's Dragon" came out in 1977. That film was a musical done with live actors and an animated hand-drawn dragon, in the same style done in "Mary Poppins". It was about a cute, green, pot-bellied dragon named Elliot who rescued an orphan boy named Pete from a cruel hillbilly family intent on enslaving him. Because of the dark story and unmemorable songs, it did not perform too well in the box-office then. It was later hardly heard of ever again unlike most other Disney films.
This year Disney gives us another film entitled "Pete's Dragon". This film is not exactly a remake. It is not a musical anymore. It was also a combination of live action with animation, but this time, the dragon would be done completely via computer-generated imagery. The only things similar with this new film and the older film are the names of the two main characters, Pete and Elliot. The story though is entirely different.
There was also an orphan named Pete who lived in the deepest part of an American forest wilderness since he was five years old brought up by his gigantic, green, furry friend, a dragon named Elliot. One day when Pete was a wild mountain boy of about 11, Pete was seen by a little girl named Natalie and her forest ranger aunt Grace, who wanted to help the poor little boy. Unfortunately, Elliot inadvertently had a run-in with Natalie's ill-tempered uncle Gavin who wanted to capture the dragon. Will Pete and Elliot ever reunite again?
The portrayal of Pete by child actor Oakes Fegley was quite appealing and endearing. When he was first "rescued" and brought into town, I got reminded of last year's harrowing film "Room," who also had a young long-haired boy experiencing "civilization" for the first time. Bryce Dallas Howard played forest ranger Grace Meacham with much compassion and kindness. Karl Urban was utterly despicable as the unscrupulous and greedy Uncle Gavin. I did not expect to see a leathery Robert Redford in this, but he felt very real as a sincere and loving grandfather. The doll-like Levi Alexander was adorable as 5-year old Pete, especially during his first encounter with Elliot.
Elliot was envisioned and rendered like a giant dog, like a green-furred Scooby Doo. He sounds like a dog with his grunts and whimpers. He even acts like a dog with that "chasing the tail" scene among others. However, I guess this Elliot was designed with young kids in mind. I bet we all wished we had own own soft and fluffy pet Elliot to cuddle into at night. I liked the scenes showing how this Elliot can camouflage and disappear into its background.
From the very beginning, we never really forgot that this was a Disney film. There were several references and similarities to previous recent Disney films like "The Good Dinosaur" and "The Jungle Book". The treatment of this oft-told story by writer-director David Lowery was very safe, wholesome and targeted to very young audiences. Apart from that singularly violent fiery encounter at the bridge, the rest of the film had a languid underwhelming feel about it. The emotions never really swelled towards the end as I was expecting it to. Good for a sentimental throwback vibe, but it felt too old-fashioned for the present day. 6/10.