“Pete’s Dragon” Flies into Theatres

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Walking into the theater, I sighed, reluctant to spend two hours watching a movie I thought only young children would enjoy. I was shocked when, even in the first scene,- David Lowery’s “Pete’s Dragon” exceeded all my expectations. Based on the 1977 film of the same title, “Pete’s Dragon” appeals not only to young children who want to see a Disney movie about dragons, but also to older audiences who accompany them to the theater.

The film begins with a young Pete (Levi Alexander) and his parents on a road trip for a family vacation. Just before Pete’s father swerves off the road to avoid hitting a deer, Pete’s mother says to him, “I think you are the bravest boy I’ve ever met.” This sentiment proves to be true, as after crawling into the woods from the car his father crashed, killing Pete’s parents, Pete survives in the woods with the help of an unlikely friend—a dragon. The dragon, named Elliott, rescues Pete from a pack of wolves, and the two form an instant bond. But this dragon is not your average fire-breathing monster—Elliott is a loving, fluffy green dragon with eyes that reveal a range of emotions. The animation of this dragon is part of what makes this movie so remarkable. Elliott’s appearance, movements and sounds are realistic and gentle, showing true artistry in the special effects and allowing the audience to appreciate him as more than a frightening creature.

Lowery takes time to show off the beautiful New Zealand forest with clips of Elliott and Pete playing in the forest and splashing in the water. Part of the magic of this movie is that not every moment is filled with dialogue; sometimes, you can just get lost in the sounds of nature.

The audience then meets the other characters. Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a local forest ranger, finds Pete and takes him to town. After initial confusion and an attempt to escape, Pete settles in with Grace, her husband Jack (Wes Bentley) and their daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence).

The understated performances by the cast are key elements to the film. Rather than adding lots of drama to their performances, the actors and actresses show emotion while keeping the focus on the things that make them feel that emotion.

While kids will enjoy the alluring story of a boy who is best friends with a dragon, mature audiences will appreciate the powerful relationships in the film. Moments in the relationship between Pete and Elliott brought tears to my eyes more than once. After Pete is found by Grace, Elliott searches for him, and finally finds him in Grace’s house, reading with her family. Elliott sees how happy Pete and leaves, putting Pete’s happiness above his own. Moments like those between Elliott and Pete, in which you can grasp the raw emotions of the characters, were the most touching.

“Pete’s Dragon” is not a violent, action-packed mythical monster movie. The climax is the most violent part, when Elliott, after being captured by a forester, attempts to escape by breathing fire and destroying a bridge. Even this scene, however, ends with a positive and heartfelt moment when Elliott saves Grace and Jack after knocking them off the bridge in his panic.

Lowery creates a magical world, a town with a quaint charm and woods surrounding it. The timelessness of the movie contributes to its magic, as it is unclear in which time period the story takes place in. Spoiler alert: if you don’t want to know the ending, stop reading here. The movie concludes with a happy ending: Pete is adopted by Grace and Jack, and Elliott finds some new dragon friends, whom Pete and his new family visit often. A simple ending to a simple but beautiful movie.