By Jim Tortolano
Disney is often in a tough spot when making live action pictures. In a cinematic world in which special effects and superhero superbattles dominate the box office, a sweet, tug-at-your-heartstrings film sometimes has trouble finding its place.
That’s partly the fate of “Pete’s Dragon,” a fantasy-allegory that has a ton of charm and only a modest audience. Combining a bit of CGI – there really are no dragons, right? – with straightforward movie craft, “Pete” tells the story of a boy orphaned at five who is befriended by, well, a dragon.
The creature in this tale is clearly a North American species; he looks more like a dog with wings than the undulating serpent of China or the demonic variety of St. George’s neighborhood. He hangs out in the forested green of the Pacific Northwest where he bunks with the precocious Pete.
But, just as in the case of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” all good things must come to an end. Six years later, Pete is found by a kindly U.S. Forest Service ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the dragon – officially the Millhaven Dragon, although Pete calls him Elliot – is hunted by the ranger’s boyfriend’s brother (Karl Urban, best-known for playing Dr. McCoy in the recent reboots of the “Star Trek” film series).
Don’t want to give away too much here, but suffice it to say that in addition to having many tender moments and a kick-booty chase scene toward the end, “Pete’s Dragon” is really about the importance of home and family as well as the inevitability of change and growth.
The cast is fine, within the limits of a somewhat sentimental script by David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks, adapted very liberally from the book by Malcolm Marmorstein. Oakes Fegley portrays Pete, doing a fine job of preteen acting despite having the stereotypical Hollywood boy haircut that hangs over his face half the time.
Unless you have the heart of an IRS auditor, this is a film that could well make you a little misty in places. Not great art, but it touches you in a way that’s memorable. Walt would have liked it.
“Pete’s Dragon” is rated PG for some scenes of peril.
Categories: Arts & Leisure