Pete’s Dragon is the 2016 remake of that 1977 Disney flick that made dragons cool way before Khaleesi. In the update, the filmmakers decided to keep the world of the Pacific Northwest in the 70s, but added Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, and a lot of CGI animators.
The story in a nutshell: A forest ranger (Howard) spent years rolling her eyes at her father’s (Redford) tales of a dragon living in the woods. Then one day she meets Pete, a 10-year-old boy (Oakes Fegley) who claims he lives in the forest with Elliot, a friendly green dragon covered in fur (and, thankfully, not a green-eared spaghetti monster). When the forest is threatened by loggers, Pete has to choose between his potential new human family and going back to the woods to rescue Elliot, the only thing that loved him after his parents died in a car crash. It seems like a real Sophie’s Choice, but these humans probably have Netflix.
So should you take your kids to see it, or just dig up a VHS player and show them the original? Here’s what the critics are saying to help you decide.
For Kids: For a children’s movie, Pete’s Dragon is kind of deep. Scott Mendelson from Forbes calls it the best “big” movie of the summer for its ability to balance family-friendly themes and a “trailer-friendly giant dragon” with “the kind of down-to-Earth character drama that we all claim Hollywood won’t make anymore,” in a similar vein to what made The LEGO Movie so great. Flick Filosopher says “this is more like a pleasant walk in the redwood forest where Pete and Elliot live than a rollicking adventure with them.” And Erin Whitney of Screen Crush calls it “Classic Disney magic in a family film that’s as uplifting for kids as it is for adults.” And teens? They DGAF.
For You: Critics are pointing out it’s more Spielbergian than Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Mark Jackson from the Epoch Times writes, “The quality of Disney’s wholesome movie-fare for children is skyrocketing. When Pete has to say goodbye to his dragon, I guarantee your eyes will explode tears.” Even if you have zero love (or memory) of the original, “The story has real substance to it, focusing on Pete’s pull between an adventurous life off the grid with Elliot and a more conventional home life with actual people,” writes Travis Hopson for Punch Drunk Critics. And Cath Clarke from Time Out says there’s “all the nostalgic Spielberg-y-ness of ‘Stranger Things’, minus the creepy kids with paranormal nosebleeds.“
Common Sense’s Take: Common Sense Media, the leading nonprofit source for helping parents make movie and TV choices for their kids, has nothing but praise for Pete’s Dragon. The story is wholesome. The move to all-live-action might even be better than the half-animated original. Your kid can look up to Pete for his wisdom and courage in the face of peril, and you’ll be charmed by a feral orphan who may be better-behaved than them. Note that the car crash, chase scenes, and gun-toting hunters going after Elliot may be a little intense, but the modest level of jeopardy makes E.T. look like Heat.
Bottom Line: Pete’s Dragon may not be goofy or frenetic, but that’s a good thing. You could use a dreamy redwood forest escape after a summer movie season full of snarky cartoon animals. And don’t be surprised if you both get a little emotional. That’s weird — this rain seems to be localized entirely to your face inside the movie theater.
Running Time: 102 minute
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