Earlier today, Daniel got his second trip to a movie theater to see the new Pete’s Dragon, which you can very easily believe is a sequel to the original. Who knows how long dragons live, anyway? Elliot was probably fluttering around North America for the last couple of hundred years helping out kids in need. It’s just chance that two of them were named Pete.
Live action Disney films are a good deal leaner and meaner these days than in the heyday that we’ve been watching for the blog. This is a good half an hour shorter than the original. There’s an economy of storytelling here, with ample space for the spectacle, but no time wasted on musical numbers or forced humor that doesn’t go anywhere. There are certainly a few amusing moments in the film, but they all serve the plot in obvious ways and do not linger. I was very, very impressed with the script, especially how the two antagonistic brothers, played by Karl Urban and Wes Bentley, are mostly left to the actors’ body language to define.
While the last twenty years of deeply dopey shows and TV movies on the Disney Channel might lead you to suspect the studio forgot how to cast anything, the studio bosses clearly know what they’re doing on their big features. Pete and his new friend Natalie are played by terrific young actors named Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence. Bentley and Urban are both very good, but the heart of the movie is shared by Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford, and Redford just makes every single thing look effortless, doesn’t he? They’re both wonderful and believable.
Elliot sounds – and looks, of course – more like an animal than he did in the original, but he still grumbles and sneezes and makes oddball noises and looks at cows with bemusement, so the old fellow’s just as charming as ever. His human foes have slightly greater firepower than they did when we last met, and I was very concerned with how my son would react to a bigger threat to Elliot than Shelley Winters and some hillbillies.
He did really well, and was silent for a good 99% of the movie, which was better than some of the rest of the audience. I think that it’s probably a movie that will frighten grownups more than it will children. It opens with the explanation of why Pete has spent six years living in the Pacific Northwest without any human company, and I was worried about that as well. But that didn’t faze him, and nor did the nighttime scenes of Elliot defending his territory, nor the scenes of Elliot’s capture. (Tranquilizers are used rather than bullets.)
In fact, I only noticed him getting worried just once, and that was during the climax, when a truly exciting scene that had him smiling and hopping in his seat suddenly turned a little dark, and Howard and Bentley’s characters are shown to have been endangered by Elliot. He recovered well, and pronounced the film “pretty cool.” We had a great time.