If you weep over furry creatures, this film will extort tears from your eyes.
Children’s movies are tricky — if too light, the adults get bored, if heavy and complex, both kids and adults (perhaps even more) get traumatised. These films try to pull their punches but most end up being pretty upsetting regardless; more so to adults who have first-hand knowledge of love and loss than to the little people who, one hopes, have not experienced separation anxiety, death, and viciousness at close quarters just yet.
Pete’s Dragon — Disney’s newest live action remake of its 1977 classic animated musical — is a bit wrenching for grownups, who know how cruel fate can be, with its blind reckonings and bad hands dealt to the nicest of people, while liars and thieves reign free (a certain very morally ambiguous presidential candidate with a toupee comes to mind).
Pete (Levi Alexander) is a very cute 5-year-old who is in a car accident with his parents when they are on a road trip adventure. Pete crawls out of the car with only his little red backpack, which contains his book Elliott Gets Lost — the story of a little dog who finds himself separated from his family. Wandering in the vast woods, Pete meets his Dragon, a big, green, flying, furry version of Scooby Doo who immediately falls in love with this fearless little creature who fits into his paw.
The film moves into its main meaty bit six years later when a logging company begins to encroach on Elliott the Dragon (named by the little boy) and the older Pete’s (Oakes Fegley) habitat. Sceptical, acquisitive adults ruin things, particularly Gavin (Karl Urban), a logger and hunter to boot, who is always in conflict with his brother Jack (Wes Bentley), both of whom co-own the said lumber mill.
The logging brings Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard), a dedicated forest ranger and the girlfriend of Jack, into the ken of Pete and his large friend as she is marking special trees that are not to be touched. Disputes over haphazard logging in restricted areas (a venal exercise of pure greed on the part of Gavin) also bring Natalie (Oona Laurence), Jack’s 10-year-old daughter, into the vast forest, and a fascinated Pete is discovered and taken to child services while Elliott is sleeping in their underground lair.
The anxiety that follows was unbearable for me — Elliott is so well-characterised, though he never says a word, that you can feel his heart break at the loss of his only friend Pete. Luckily, Bryce Dallas Howard and Oakes Fegley bring so much love, warmth, and genuine compassion to this film where, in the end, things do thankfully go well.
You have been forewarned: if you weep over furry creatures, this film will extort tears from your eyes.