Pete's Dragon film review: a sweet-hearted Disney film that trades on nostalgia for the films of your childhood

Dougie Gerrard
Pete's Dragon

After the wildly successful Jungle Book remake comes Pete’s Dragon, itself a reboot of a little known Disney film from 1977, a strange, dated musical featuring a dragon who was half live-action and half animation, but mostly invisible.

It wasn’t well reviewed, but a reheated Turkey is often easier to stomach than a remade classic. It’s the third directorial effort for David Lowery, who also wrote the screenplay, and a notable departure – he’s previously produced the brilliant and unsettling indie movies Upstream Colour and Listen Up Phillip, both very much for adults. Pete’s Dragon is very much not for adults.

The eponymous fire-breather is Elliott, an enormous, green, sweet-natured creature, who acts as a surrogate parent and friend to Pete (Oakes Fegley), a twelve year-old boy orphaned after a car crash in the woods. Pete must keep Elliott hidden away from Gavin (Karl Urban), a hunter and the prototypical lumbering Disney villain. Gavin’s sister-in-law Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is kinder, and there’s a particularly touching scene in which she coaxes him from a dream about his mother. Also notable is the film’s opening, in which Pete’s parents die. It’s a skilful directed, serene moment: untellable trauma seen through the uncomprehending eyes of a child.

Despite this touch of melancholy, this is the most “Disney” Disney has been in years. It feels like a movie from another time, before the Pixar revolution changed children’s films utterly, introducing an acerbic wit and thematic maturity hitherto unpronounced. Pete’s Dragon rolls back the years, evoking the sweet, slightly bland family dramas you might remember from your childhood. This warm suffusion of nostalgia is probably enough for adults to go and see it independently, but it’s really one to watch with the kids.

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