Bryce Dallas Howard Robert Redford Oakes Fegley Oona Laurence Wes Bentley Karl Urban
Ah…magic is still alive and all’s right with the world! When five year-old Pete has to fend for himself in the forest after a car accident, a dragon who had been spotted occasionally in that forest through the years suddenly appears. Without speaking, of course, he lets the child know that he is a friendly dragon, and Pete knows from his book about a dragon to name him Elliot. They spend the next six years playing together, building a tree house, finding shelter in a cave, and foraging for food.
When civilization starts to encroach upon the forest in the form of housing development, the idyllic lives of the two friends are about to change. Pete has a gradual introduction when he is spotted by a girl about his age named Natalie (Laurence) who is the daughter of the man responsible for clearing the forest. She is a curious child and immediately wants to make friends and chases after him. He runs up a tree, with her right behind him, but she is not as experienced as he is and falls. This brings her parents, who must figure out who Pete is and where he came from.
Pete has vague memories of his mother, and he is reminded of her when Natalie’s mother Grace (Howard) gently talks to him, so he warms up to her. Grace has grown up in the region and knows the forest very well and some of the lore about it told to her by her father (Redford). She will work on finding out about Pete’s origins and see that he is well taken care of.
However, she doesn’t anticipate that greed and mass hysteria among people in town are going to hamper her efforts. When Elliott is spotted looking for Pete, trigger-happy Gavin (Urban) whips up the townspeople to get out their guns and give chase. They are afraid, but it’s also evident that they love the sport of hunting just for the fun of it. This is one of the good messages in the film for children—that they don’t have to run and get their guns anytime they see something strange or try to exploit it for profit.
In the course of dealing with this issue and trying to help Pete find his friend, Director David Lowery gives us excitement aplenty, mixed with tender moments after close calls and significant discoveries. I think this Disney production does a fine job in balancing the scariness and tension with the joys of discovery in the natural world, as well as showing the warmth of a loving family. I especially appreciated seeing that Natalie was better than the adults in understanding Pete and introducing him to things he has never seen or has forgotten. Once again, it’s good for children to see that model of behavior with a stranger, as opposed to rejecting him because he is different.
Robert Redford is a powerful figure onscreen, and when the movie opens and he is telling a group of children about a dragon, he captures our interest right away. Bryce Dallas Howard plays her role as daughter, wife, and mother in a natural, loving way, giving assurance that Pete is in good hands. Both child actors, Fegley and Laurence, merge into their roles with ease and are delightful to watch. Daniel Hart’s music choices are just right in using well-known American songs that give a sense of place and time.
For a bit of thrilling magic, go see Pete’s Dragon.