Every once in a while, a movie comes along that leaves audiences with a warm and cozy feeling, like they've just been wrapped up in a big, fluffy blanket. Disney's Pete's Dragon is just such a film.
While the 1977 Pete's Dragon was a partially animated musical, this live-action remake decides to go with a different, less whimsical approach. Tragically orphaned by a car crash at a young age, Pete (Oakes Fegley) lives as a modern-day Mowgli in a vast forest in the Pacific Northwest; his only friend is Elliot, who just so happens to be a kind, loyal, and adorable (not to mention furry!) dragon with the ability to make himself invisible. In a nearby town, woodworker Meacham (Robert Redford) enchants the local children with his stories of a dragon that lives in the woods, while his daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) works as a forest ranger. When Grace encounters a now-ten-year-old Pete one day during her rounds, she and her fiancé Jack (Wes Bentley) invite him to stay with their family -- which also includes Jack's daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) -- while they try to learn more about his past.
Things get complicated when Jack's brother Gavin (Karl Urban) and his colleagues stumble upon Elliot in the woods while Pete is visiting his friend. Eager for the potential fame that would come from capturing a dragon, they tranquilize the creature and haul him back to town. Now, it's up to Pete and his new friends to rescue Elliot and release him back into the wild.
What Pete's Dragon lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with its strong, heartfelt relationships: Pete's connection with Elliott mirrors a typical child's bond with his pet, Grace and her father clearly love and trust one another, and Pete and Natalie quickly develop an easy friendship. At the same time, Elliot is definitely not your average movie dragon; the CGI that brings him to life looks downright adorable, and he only breathes fire when he believes Pete is in trouble -- it's the friendly-dragon equivalent of a sweet-natured puppy barking at a perceived threat to its owner.
The interactions between the adults and kids are also refreshing in their honesty and lack of condescension: Rather than skeptically dismissing what Natalie and Pete have to say, the grown-ups listen to them and are supportive. This dynamic helps us see Pete and Natalie as fleshed-out characters in their own right, and will resonate with any children in the audience.
Perhaps the film feels so comforting because it argues that people can change for the better, as long as they are willing to open their minds. Although technically the main antagonist, Gavin isn't really an evil man -- he just needs to gain a sense of perspective about what is truly important in life. Once he and the other townsfolk accept that they can safely coexist with Elliot, the plot is resolved.
With its emphasis on the characters' relationships instead of a prefabricated conflict, Pete's Dragon feels like something special. And at a brisk 102 minutes, it's just long enough to leave parents and kids alike feeling happy and open to the magic surrounding them.