Let’s be honest, Pete’s Dragon wasn’t exactly a Disney classic that was crying out for a remake. Yes, many of us have some fond nostalgia for the film, but it really isn’t the best Disney movie, and certainly not one that I would have thought would be at the top of the list of potential remakes. However, Disney once again has proven their savvy by taking what is admittedly a fairly dorky film and turning it into a truly heartwarming and uplifting film. In fact, while the “classic” status of the original is rather debatable, the modern remake is easily one of Disney’s best, and is truly a modern classic.
At the core of what makes this new Pete’s Dragon so successful and refreshing is something quite simple; there’s nothing hateful about it. There aren’t really any villains in any sort of traditional sense. There are some more selfish characters, but how many of us have struggled with being a bit selfish, especially when living in the shadow of someone else. There are moments when characters come into conflict with each other, but you’re never under the impression that there’s anything hateful about their spats. In fact, despite the moments when they don’t get along, there’s still an undercurrent of respect and care amongst these characters. Sure, the lack of any sort of hatefulness may not be very realistic and too naively optimistic, but it’s still refreshing to see on the big screen, and it makes this version of Pete’s Dragon irresistibly endearing.
Speaking of endearing, the movie’s title character, which is all CG by the way, is one of the most endearing elements of the film. The fact that Eliot the dragon comes alive is such a believable and emotional way is one of the great triumphs of the film. We come to care about Eliot as much as Pete does, and all without that goofy dragon ever saying a word. If the character of Eliot didn’t work, this whole film would have fallen completely apart. Instead, he works so well that it gives the film that magical appeal that sets it apart in a very unique way. It’s hard to capture on film that childlike awe of a magical moment; Pete’s Dragon nails it.
Of course not everyone buys into the notion that magic can exist. Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) states with conviction that she knows the forest better than anyone else, and she couldn’t have possibly missed a dragon during all of her time in familiar territory. What’s really interesting about that is a bit later, as Pete takes her to meet Eliot, she says with a bit of awe and surprise, “I’ve never seen this part of the forest before.” That’s the problem with not allowing for the possibility “magic” to exist; the fact is, we haven’t seen everything, so how can we really know? Maybe we’ve missed something. Pete was in that forest that Grace knew so well for over six years; and she missed him. So many people state with such certainty that God can’t possibly exist; there’s too much scientific evidence, there’s too much bad stuff that happens, there’s too much that just doesn’t make sense. Thus even the mere possibility that God could exist and the Bible might be true is completely dismissed. However, someday we’re all going to end up in a part of the forest we’ve never seen before and we’ll be confronted with an uncomfortable prospect; maybe it’s possible after all because maybe we didn’t know as much as we thought. Christians are so often accused of being narrow-minded, but how can not even allowing for the possibility that the Bible might be right and Jesus might really be who he claimed he was be any less narrow-minded? Grace simply couldn’t believe that something magical could possibly exist, until she was confronted with it face-to-face. I’m not saying you have to believe in Jesus or the Bible or, but I am saying that it’s foolish to dismiss that it’s even possible for Jesus and Bible to be right in their claims. After all, the Bible does say that one day we too will all come face-to-face with Truth (Philippians 2:10-11). So, the question is, should you entertain that it just might be possible for what the Bible says to be true, and if so, what sort of impact might that have on your life? Grace’s dad had an encounter with “magic” that changed the way he saw things forever; might an encounter with the supernatural do the same for you?
Something else worth allowing the possibility of; that Disney has once again taken one of their older films and turned it into a modern classic that completely stands on its own. However, I’d say Pete’s Dragon is a bit more unique than say Cinderella or The Jungle Book. Those movies were already classics in their own right, and the updates didn’t so much as improve them as reinterpreted them with new elements for a new generation. Pete’s Dragon, however, takes a film that was merely okay at its best and turned into something truly great. This modern version vastly improves upon the original, making it stand-alone classic in its own right while also becoming the definitive version of this story. I know, some will complain about me making such a lofty statement, but the simple fact is most of us are a long time removed from seeing the original Pete’s Dragon, and most of us probably are remembering it through the nostalgic tint of a childhood viewing. No matter, whether you saw the original or not, and whether you really liked the original or not, this new Pete’s Dragon is a wonderful movie in its own right and is one that simply should not be missed.
Score 6 of 7: Pete’s Dragon has some pretty heavy moments, especially early on, that could take their emotional toll on the younger ones. And admittedly, it also may move a bit more slowly than audiences are used to. Don’t hear me wrong, thought, it’s not slow, it’s just willing to take its time, knowing that well developed characters and stories leave far more of an impact than lots of flash. This is one movie that will leave you with a wonderful feeling long after the lights go down.