November 28, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: PETE'S DRAGON (2016)

Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford, Isiah Whitlock Jr and John Kassir as the Cryptkeeper Elliot. Directed by David Lowery. (2016, 103 min).

I think I know why Pete's Dragon undeservedly broke Disney's 2016 box office winning streak, and it's partially my fault. Maybe yours, too.

My wife sort-of wanted to see it in theaters, but I quashed that idea before she even finished her sentence. The original 1977 film was the biggest flaming pile of poo ever released under the Disney banner (and yes...I've seen Condorman). No way was I gonna endure a CG-laden remake of a movie I hated in the first place. Perhaps a lot of other folks felt the same way.

As a disc reviewer, it's my job to remain open-minded. Still, the thought of sitting through this title filled me with more dread than usual, so I put it off as long as I could. But, lo and behold, Pete's Dragon turned out to be a terrific surprise. Aside from the basic premise, this is almost a completely different film that outclasses the original in every way imaginable.

Pete (Oakes Fegley) survives a car crash that killed his parents. Stranded in the woods, he befriends Elliot, a friendly dragon who's sort-of an urban legend in a nearby logging town. Six years later, Pete is discovered by Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard), a forest ranger who never believed the stories her father (Robert Redford) told her about a dragon living in the woods. After Pete and Elliot become separated, Pete befriends Grace's daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence), while adjusting to civilization. Now alone and feeling abandoned, Elliot retreats back to the forest. Meanwhile, greedy hunter/lumberyard owner Gavin (Karl Urban) tries to hunt him down, hoping to get rich.

Elliot prepares to surprise Pete with the mother of all cannonballs.
Stripping away the schmaltz, sappy musical numbers, cornball comedy and roadshow spectacle of the original was the smartest move Disney could have made. By keeping this version a simple tale of friendship and family, with believable characters and plenty of heart-tugging moments, it nearly achieves the same level of charm as Disney's remake of The Jungle Book from earlier this year. Pete's Dragon isn't quite as ambitious, but for a film that's relatively low-key in comparison, it doesn't need to be. Still, it's technically proficient and looks wonderful. Elliot himself looks like a cross between Sully from Monsters Inc and my dog. He also behaves much like a loyal dog, which makes him a pretty endearing character.

I don't imagine there's much room set aside in Disney Stores for stuffed Elliots this holiday season, not with all the Marvel, Star Wars, Finding Dory, Zootopia and Moana toys taking up the shelf space. Pete's Dragon (as well as Spielberg's The BFG, but that's another sad tale) sort-of got lost in the shuffle during Disney's summer juggernaut. It'll also probably make the studio think twice before remaking any titles that aren't already bankable brand names. That's a shame, really, because not only is Pete's Dragon a satisfying and fun film, it's Disney's less-than-stellar originals that should be remade in the first place. More of us should have bitten the bullet and taken a chance on it in theaters, though perhaps it'll find the audience it deserves on home video.

"Notes to Self: A Director's Diary" - Director David Lowery narrates his own journal, covering several entries from the beginning of production through the end.
"Making Magic" - Visual Effects and what it was like shooting on-set without an actual dragon.
"Disappearing Moments" - Deleted, extended & alternate scenes.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Lowery, co-writer Toby Halbrooks, Oakes Fegley & Oona Laurence.
BLOOPER REEL - Mostly the actors mugging for the camera.
MUSIC VIDEOS: "Nobody Knows" by The Lumineers; "Something Wild" by Lindsey Stirling.

No comments: