After the success of the live-action version of The Jungle Book, Disney went back to the vault to bring a touch of reality to another classic. Pete's Dragon is a new take on Disney's 1977 mix of live-action and animation. However, this remake drops the music and comedic overtones in order to finally give this dragon its due.
Within two seconds of meeting the young Pete (an adorable Levi Alexander), he is thrust into the type of sad circumstances that seem to be par for the course of any Disney lead. The newly orphaned tot then finds himself in the middle of the forest and face-to-face with a dragon. The big guy is more protector than predator, though. So Pete names him Elliot, after his favorite storybook character.
Years later, Pete (Oakes Fegley) is living happily with Elliot in the forest, until lumberjacks invade their space. Pete is then found by Natalie (Oona Laurence), her father Jack (Wes Bentley), and park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). The budding family takes Pete in, unaware of his buddy left behind in the forest. It doesn't take long for everyone to meet Elliot, but some are not as accepting as Pete.
Like The Jungle Book, this film relies heavily on CGI. And like that film, Pete's Dragon blends fantasy with the real world quite well. A lot of that has to do with the wonderful performances. The younger cast members are really the ones making the magic here, but Howard and even Robert Redford do stand out as well.
Pete's Dragon never really stood out as one of Disney's best. Thankfully, that's been rectified. This film is a wonderful rollercoaster of emotion, with ups, downs, and a lot of Disney magic. It's absolutely a must-see.
The forest can be a pretty dark place, but this 2.39:1 transfer makes it seem like the perfect Disney setting. A tiny bit of softness peeks in on occasion, but it never takes away from the viewing experience. Even in the darkest moments deep in the forest, the Blu-ray displays a lot of detail on trees, faces, and even Elliot the dragon. The forest, the people, and the dragon look even better in the daytime. Besides the detail, the shots in the forest have varying greens and browns that are pretty spot-on. There are also plenty of bursts of color from the blue sky and Natalie's red sneakers to the red balloon and the yellow school bus. Overall, it's a lot of fun to watch.
For the most part, Pete's Dragon roars and rumbles through its 103-minute runtime. Some of the dialog is on the low side, but it's always clear and shouldn't have you reaching for the remote. Otherwise, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is a delight, with a lot of howling, hooting, falling trees, and a magical score by Daniel Hart. Of course, whenever the dragon appears, this track soars to new heights, filling the soundfield with grunts, snarls, roars, and a lot of emotion.
For a Disney release, the extras for Pete's Dragon seem a bit on the slim side. There is a feature-length commentary track, which has director/co-writer David Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks sitting down with actors Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence. Otherwise, the two main featurettes include two minutes on the dragon and a 7.5-minute "Director's Diary," with scenes from the movie twisted up with Lowery giving a few thoughts on the production. To round out the collection, there are "Bloopers," two music videos, deleted and alternate scenes, and another two minutes on filming in New Zealand.
Pete's Dragon never stood out as one of Disney's most memorable films -- until now. This live-action remake is a wonderfully sweet story that will have you running through every emotion possible. It's exciting and terribly emotional. It's also bursting with Disney magic, which is amplified by the image and 7.1 audio track. This is a must-have for Disney fans of all ages.
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