Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Director: David Lowery (2016) BBFC cert: PG

A soaringly sentimental adventure in the best Disney tradition, this fabulous family fable is a superior beast to the 1977 version.

This seamless combination of live action and state of the art CGI has sky high production values wrapped around its large loving heart and a story devoted to the values of family and friendship.

Kids will love the outdoorsy adventure and parents will have a surreptitious emotional moment behind their 3D glasses.

Oakes Fegley is wonderfully endearing as the eleven year old orphan Pete who lives in the forest with his best friend Elliot, a friendly dragon. The creature looks and acts like a giant green pet dog. Only with wings and the ability to breathe fire.

Elliot is Pete’s surrogate parent and protector, a King Kong sized Mary Poppins who has the power to turn invisible. Pete is a wild boy of the woods, a distant cousin of Mowgli from Disney’s Jungle Book (2016).

The immensely likeable Bryce Dallas Howard appears as Grace, a kindly Forest Ranger who doesn’t believe in dragons but does want to solve the mystery of Pete’s parents.

After starring in last year’s monster smash Jurassic World (2015) the actress is no stranger to working with enormous CGI beasts. They’re provided here by WETA Digital who won Oscars for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001-2003).

Robert Redford’s craggy avuncular charm is put to good use as Grace’s father, a man who claims to have once encountered a flying lizard.

Though set in USA, the tale is filmed in the lush and mystical mountains of New Zealand.  Kiwi actor Karl Urban stars as not especially villainous lumber mill owner Gavin. Discovering dragons are real, he wants to capture Elliot. But in trying to save Elliot, Pete risks losing his best friend forever.

It’s essential to the films success we believe the legendary dragon exists and so the film-makers have created a sense of mythic timelessness.

Elliot has a broken tooth and a scar, suggesting a creature of maturity and personal history. Interior scenes captured in a semi-sepia tone are sympathetic to the lush brown and green exteriors evocative of the myths of King Arthur.

Contributing also is the 1980s setting which sidesteps the issue of google optimised smart-phones. A folksy soundtrack is an appropriate and sensitive choice as themes of grief and reconciliation are tackled head on.

The result is we’re wrapped up in this huge warm hug of a movie much like Pete is by Elliot’s shaggy coat of hair. Take a flight on the wings of  Pete’s Dragon and you will believe he exists.

@ChrisHunneysett

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