Pete’s Dragon / 4 Palm Trees
by Eduardo Victoria / [email protected]
Pete’s Dragon is a reminder that we should never forget “the magic”. The term, as it pertains to the film is broad, but can be distilled to an innate awe and wonder, a reverence and respect for what we can’t control or take for granted on a daily basis. It’s an unsaid truth that the older we get, the more this trait is clouded and contaminated by fear. In many ways, David Lowery’s latest film feels like a wake-up call, a kid’s movie for adults. He’s created a film that is big and ambitious, but far removed from all the empty spectacle flooding blockbuster filmmaking, instead using a fantastic premise to look deeply inward to great effect.
5-year-old Pete (Oakes Fegley) is on a vacation with his parents. Driving down a secluded highway, a deer jumps out and their car goes careening off the highway. Pete is the only survivor, but just when he’s about to be eaten by a pack of wolves, a giant, green dragon comes to his rescue, instinctually feeling the boys confusion and pain, and taking him into his arms. Flash forward to six years later, and the two are inseparable. That’s all threatened, when a lumberjack and his crew begin chopping trees further into the forest than they should. Soon enough, Pete’s discovered by a kind forest ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). She and her family take Pete in, but are curious as to how he survived in the wilderness for so long. As Pete and Elliot attempt to reunite, the aforementioned lumberjack, Gavin (Karl Urban), discovers Elliot and tires to hunt him down for his own selfish gain.
On the human side of things, the ensemble is strong on all fronts. Oakes Fegley, as Pete, is a perfect mixture of headstrong attitude and pure will. Blending feral physicality with human sincerity, he’s exactly who the film needs to embody its themes. Fegley brings with him an innocence, but also a presence that we can’t ever ignore. As Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard fits into the matriarchal role with ease, acting as the best attributes of what humanity has to offer, and helping to really sell the film’s stakes with a personal perspective. As Grace’s soon-to-be stepdaughter, Natalie, Oona Laurence is another great addition, giving Pete an understanding tether to the human world. Karl Urban and Robert Redford are welcome flourishes to the film – they don’t have the biggest roles (for good reason), but make every second count.
There are a lot of shows and films out there currently riding a wave of nostalgia, appealing to our childhoods and the simplicity of our youth. Rather than fashion a film based on obvious references or playful nods to our past, Pete’s Dragon instead embodies the sincerity of the past, showing that we need it now more than ever. It’s worth noting that the film is a period piece, taking place in the 80s, but never rubbing our faces in it – it really just wants to show an understated contrast of how times have changed and what we can learn from that. They really don’t make them like this anymore, and like that, Lowery’s created another Disney classic, a warm, imaginative and inspiring human adventure that’s sure to stand the test of time.
Now playing at Cinemark Downtown 10. 102 minutes. Rated PG.