Pete’s Dragon captures the essence of old Disney movies and updates it into modern story with the latest movie magic. What is the result? A family friendly movie that easily sits in the top 5 movies released in 2016. First, I want to clarify what I mean by the “essence” of old Disney movies. When I think of old Disney movies (I am not talking cartoons, per se), I think of joyful movies with positive moral messages that are playful and fun. And Pete’s Dragon has that in spades! You have wonder filled adventure, magical moments, and an antagonist that is not really a villain and by the end of the movie finds redemption. You don’t have any of the hatefulness that often pervades modern movies. When the heroes interact with the antagonist, its playful and humorous. There are plenty of positive moral elements like honor, integrity, faithfulness, and truthfulness. I felt like I was watching a modern classic which does not happen often these days and left this reviewer pleasantly surprised.
This is a modern retelling of Pete’s Dragon and as such, I did not care to compare it to the classic Disney film. Instead, I let the story stand on its own to which it did quite well. Pete finds himself alone in the dark forest threatened with all the nasties when Elliot arrives to fend them off and explore this odd human creature. A bond is formed and thus is set in motion the story of a cast away and his dragon friend. Imagine a story where a forest service employee encounters a wild child in the forest with a mythical creature as a friend and you can probably guess much of the story. However, it’s never boring in its predictability. In fact, its refreshingly slow paced story telling at its best. There are a few small agenda driven messages, but nothing is in your face. Best part? Neither is the story; I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie that did not feel like it had to tell me what everyone is feeling/thinking/doing. No need for extended monologuing in case I can’t guess why the antagonist made such a crazy choice. Expect plenty of subtle looks, body language, and short lines to be pack full of meaning.
Take for instance one of my favorite lines where the elderly father figure is telling magical stories of fighting off a dragon in the forest as he has done countless times before when the loving daughter replies that something is not true just because you say it is. As this line unwinds in the film you are called to consider what everyone says the rest of the film. What an impactful line! And consider it for modern audiences where tolerance and acceptance lead us to common phrases such as “that’s true for you but not for me”. Relativism invades our understanding of truth. One of my favorite thoughts on truth is that when men discover truth from within creation, its always subject to change as more is understood. Consider when it was true the smallest particle was the atom. Discovered and proven true. But as further discoveries were made, we discovered sub-atomic particles and thus previous truth was proven false and replaced with new information proven to be true. However, when the truth comes from outside of creation, from the creator himself, we have a truth that can stand the test of time. Along those lines, one of my favorite C.S Lewis quotes: “Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London.” We should all consider our sources for truth. And truth be told, this movie is one not to be missed and is perfect for the whole family! From young to old, enjoy the classic essence with modern movie magic.
6 out of 7 – Rated PG primarily for thematic elements, a few scenes may be a bit intense for the youngest audience members but nothing that could not be talked through and understood. I suspect Pete’s Dragon may not garner the attention it deserves but make no mistake, this is a movie worth enjoying this summer!