Review: PETE'S DRAGON (2016) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Friday, 26 August 2016

Review: PETE'S DRAGON (2016)

Review: PETE'S DRAGON (2016)

A remake of 1977's Disney movie of the same name, PETE'S DRAGON centres on a small kid named Pete (Oakes Fegley) who is left stranded in the forest following a car accident that claimed both his parents. He ends up befriending a big, green dragon where he named him as "Elliot". Then one day, Pete crosses path with a local forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) as well as her fiance Jack (Wes Bentley) and his daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence).


REVIEW: Whereas the 1977 original of PETE'S DRAGON is more of a musical and a live-action/animation hybrid featuring a cartoon dragon, writer-director David Lowery's updated reboot eschews the singing parts and retains the movie's basic setup surrounding the friendship between the orphaned boy and his dragon. The dragon, in the meantime, is no longer a cartoon but a CGI makeover.

Lowery, the indie sensation who directed the 2013 indie romance/crime drama AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS, made his first studio feature with a keen eye for visual poetry. Shot on location around New Zealand (a stand-in for the Pacific Northwest), Lowery and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli successfully captured the folksy charm as well as a homely feel of an American countryside.

Lowery also begins the movie promisingly with a car crash. Even though this is a family-friendly movie, he doesn't shy away from depicting the reality of that particular scene by showing it offscreen. Instead, he shows the entire crash scene in an elegant slow-motion as the car flips with Pete's bewildered facial expression captured front and centre. In the hands of a lesser director, such scene shot in slow-motion can be easily dismissed for being distasteful or insensitive. But Lowery made the scene visually poignant and arresting at the same time.

Review: PETE'S DRAGON (2016)

The CGI dragon of Elliot is amazingly lifelike and certainly a huge improvement over the original's hand-drawn animation. Kudos to the talented team from Weta Digital, the same special effects company best known for their technical achievements in THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT trilogies.

As for the human cast, Oakes Fegley gives a wonderful yet sympathetic performance as Pete. The way he interacts and shows deep affection for his CGI co-star, Elliot the dragon feels real and even exhibits a strong chemistry. Bryce Dallas Howard displays maternal grace and warmth to her kind-hearted character as Grace. Some of the other cast including Robert Redford as Grace's father, Meacham and Oona Laurence as Jack's daughter, Natalie both deliver decent supports.

However, not everything blends well in PETE'S DRAGON. Wes Bentley is particularly wooden as Grace's fiance, Jack. While it's an inspired choice to cast Karl Urban as the movie's villain, his role is sadly underutilised. For all the warm and cosiness that Lowery brought to the movie, it's a shame the movie suffers from a languid pace where the drama is too heavy-handed for its own good. Mixing indie sensibility to the otherwise formulaic family-friendly studio picture is actually a nice touch. But Lowery gets too carried away with all the long pauses and pretension to the point he almost forgot to entertain the viewers as well. Sure, there are moments of magic and wonder that recalls a Spielbergian quality. Too bad these scenes are few and far between. The plodding momentum has certainly robbed some of the movie's charm and it's a pity that PETE'S DRAGON could have been a great family-friendly classic for the modern generation.

Despite the arresting visual poetry and some of the Spielbergian magic found within the wonderful chemistry between Oakes Fegley and Elliot the dragon, PETE'S DRAGON is too slow and laborious for a family-friendly movie.

* This review is written courtesy from Walt Disney Malaysia 3D press screening *

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