No one was clamoring for a remake of Pete’s Dragon, I don’t think, but the film is surprisingly good. Elliott, the titular dragon, is the centerpiece of this movie when it works. He’s an astounding creation of computer graphics. Toward the end of the film, I realized that I had somehow at some point flipped over into being amazed at how well Elliott was TRAINED by the filmmakers instead of being amazed at how well he’d been CREATED. He’s an expressive creature and he feels absolutely real and he has all the soul and evocative power that he needs. In this way, he does overshadow the human characters who are ill-served by a script that keeps the character pretty well thin and uninteresting. Lowery has assembled a great cast, but the screenplay leaves them pretty well wasted. Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard (doing her best Jessica Chastain), Oona Laurence (one of the best things about Southpaw and genuinely brilliant in the dark indie drama Lamb) and, most ill-served, Wes Bentley try to find depth for their characters, but they really can’t. Karl Urban fares better; his character has a genuine arc (the only one of the film) and the film refuses to treat him like a stereotypical heavy, letting us see the motivations behind his bad actions. That I have to say Karl Urban gives the best performance in a movie with Robert Redford in it is baffling to me, but there it is. Director Lowery is given room to put his personal stamp on this film, both for good and ill. Lowery likes slow pacing and beautiful cinematography, as in his last film, the absolute masterpiece Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and he indulges in both here. The pacing is faster than in his previous films as a courtesy to Disney audiences, but it’s still too slow in my opinion. This has its own kind of charm, I suppose, a Disney movie for children that I have to criticize for being “too slow,” but the charm of wears off as the film progresses. The film is visually beautiful, however, filled with sweeping landscape shots, atmospheric night scenes (like the gorgeous, heart-breaking opening) and Lowery manages to integrate the CGI Elliott into these very real world scenes without it being at all jarring. Pete’s Dragon isn’t the masterpiece some of Disney’s recent live-action remakes have been, but Lowery’s gorgeous visuals and the brilliant creation of Elliott elevate it, despite the obvious problems of the script. At the end of the day, I wanted my own Elliott to take home; his sweet, charming, playful soul had won me over completely. For all the film’s problems, that’s maybe the only thing that really matters. 3 stars.
tl;dr – gorgeous visuals & an astoundingly great character in Elliott the Dragon elevate this film; the script fares not nearly so well with the human characters, but you may not care. 3 stars.