Pete’s Dragon review: One of the best Disney films in a decade. Don’t miss it
Director - David Lowery
Cast - Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford
Rating - 4.5/5
It’s unlikely that you’ll watch Pete’s Dragon. There’s no point denying it. There are always other, flashier, louder, more attractive films out there. But if you’re reading this, I want you to take a leap of faith. I want you to trust a stranger. But above all else, I want you to do yourself a favour, make time, and seek out Pete’s Dragon.
It’s like a live-action Pixar movie, heartbreaking in beautiful and moving ways. The way it ends is the closest any film has ever come to the devastation of Toy Story 3. It’s a story about friendship, growing up and moving on. On the surface, Pete’s Dragon is a children’s movie, but it has the wisdom of an old grandmother’s tale. Friends come and go – but the memories they leave behind never will.
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At the centre of it all is Pete. He isn’t the first Disney character whose parents perish, and he won’t be the last. But when their car crashes in the opening scene, and he survives, it is Elliot who comes to his rescue. Elliot is the dragon. Pete’s dragon. The film could very well be about him. They live together in the forest for the next 6 years, until the curious outside world interrupts their never ending summer. But as both Pete and Elliot will find out, not all change is bad.
What’s more astonishing is that this is only director David Lowery’s second feature. His first, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, was one of the strongest – and certainly the best-looking – debuts of the last 5 years. It was a meditative take on the Bonnie & Clyde tale – outlaw lovers taking on the world. You can consider this an aggressive recommendation. But what I’m really trying to say is that however brilliant Ain’t Them Bodies Saints may have been, Lowery gave no indication that his true calling would be a big Disney summer fantasy. But there you go.
Happily, not a frame of this film seems to have been compromised. This is very much a David Lowery movie – although it is too early in his career to gauge exactly what a David Lowery movie is. Maybe it has something to do with the quiet, introspective tone. Maybe it’s his way with actors (Robert Redford is amazing, as are the rest). Maybe it’s his music choices (The Lumineers, Lindsey Stirling), or maybe it’s his beautiful visuals. I can’t wait to find out. Pete’s Dragon may have cost $65 million as compared to Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ $4 million, but it is just as fiercely independent at heart.
Disney films are often deeply melancholic if you scratch beneath the surface, and since Pete’s Dragon is one of the best Disney movies of the last decade, you must prepare yourself for some waterworks.Do you know what they say about vampires? How they’re the most tragic creatures of them all? How they have to keep living, forever and ever, as everyone they’ve ever loved dies? Without revealing much, watching this film from Elliot’s perspective is heartbreaking.
But now, let me tell you a story. A bittersweet one. There was only one person watching Pete’s Dragon at my screening. It was me. In all these years of watching every movie to ever arrive in our country, small or big, this has never happened.
A few weeks ago, I ranted angrily against the world for rejecting Steven Spielberg’s The BFG. Pete’s Dragon is a better film. It deserves every recommendation it can get. This film needs to be seen. But I was the only one there. So should I be angrier?
It’s disappointing when no one turns up for a film, especially one this warm. But watching it alone made it more special. I’d like to think there are empty theatres all over the world in which tiny groups, loners and curious children are watching this odd little movie about a boy and his dragon. They’re all brave for having chosen this film over the rest. But do you realise what you’ve done - all of you brave people? You’ve built a cult.
In a few years, when all is said and done, 2016 will not be remembered for Marvel and DC. It will not be remembered for the reboots and sequels. It will be remembered for films like Midnight Special. It will be remembered for films like Pete’s Dragon. Don’t get left behind.