There are many types of dragons, and Disney’s 1977 mixed animation/live-action feature, “Pete’s Dragon,” presented a goofy, lovable invisible dragon that became the guardian of a young orphan in the early 1900s. This year’s remake features a more respectable dragon who also protects a young boy, but it does so without musical numbers. “Pete’s Dragon” 2016 has a better dragon, a better story and even better lessons for the young children.
In the original 1977 version, the young orphan is running away from his hillbilly foster family, the Gogans, when an invisible force knocks them into the mud. The force is a green and purple dragon who has the power of invisibility that Pete names “Elliot.” Pete (Sean Marshall) with Elliott wander into a small Michigan fishing village, Pasamquoddy.
One of the villagers, the lighthouse keeper, Lampie, has seen Elliot, but he was drunk at the time so no one believes him. Elliot, while invisible, has caused some accidents resulting in Pete being labeled unlucky. The villagers are a superstitious bunch and the fishermen believe that Pete has caused their run of bad luck finding fish.
Lampie’s daughter, Nora, offers Pete a place to stay, in the lighthouse with her and Lampie. Nora pines for Paul, her lost sailor boyfriend. Nora believes that Elliot is imaginary.
The next town, a quack doctor, Dr. Terminus comes into town. He’s convinced that Elliot is real and is sure that dragons can be used in medical remedies. When the Grogans arrive in town, demanding Pete back, the Grogans and Dr. Terminus team up although the Grogans don’t believe that the dragon is real. Their plan doesn’t work; when confronted by Elliot the Grogans flee. During this chaos, Elliot saves several villagers, including the mayor. The villagers realize Elliot is real as does Nora. In the end, Nora is reunited with Paul, who has returned and because Pete is now safe and has a family with Nora, Paul and Lampie, Elliot leaves.
“Pete’s Dragon” has an official landing page on the Disney website. The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Original Song (“Candle on the Water” and Original Song Score.
The 2016 remake begins sometime during the 1976 when a young boy, Pete, is on an adventure with his parents. Pete is in the back, reading a book about a small dog called, “Elliot Gets Lost.” Swerving to avoid hitting a deer, the family’s car turns over. Pete is later seen outside of the car, clutching his red backpack and a book. The five-year-old goes into the woods, but is surrounded by a pack of wolves. He is saved when a large green dragon frightens away the wolves and takes Pete in his arms and hugs him.
In 1982, an old man, Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) carves images of winged, four-legged dragons and frightens the local children with tales about his encounter with the legendary dragon of the forests surrounding Millhaven (actually Rotorua Redwood Forest). His daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) doesn’t believe in her father’s tales. She is a forest ranger and she’s never seen the dragon.
Grace is involved with Jack (Wes Bentley) who owns the local lumber mill and works with his brother Gavin (Karl Urban). Jack and Gavin are in the forest with Grace and Jack’s daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence) when Natalie meets Pete (Oakes Fegley) who has left the cave he shares with Elliot while Elliot was still asleep. Through Natalie, Pete is caught and taken into town where the Sheriff (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Grace try to figure out just who Pete is.
Elliot awakens and discovers Pete is missing and goes looking for him, but during his search he appears before Gavin and his men. Gavin tries to convince his brother that there is a dragon, but Jack won’t believe him.
As Elliot searches for Pete, Pete convinces Grace to take him back to the woods. Grace realizes that Pete’s drawing of Elliot resembles her father’s old drawing of the dragon he saw and she takes her father, Natalie and Pete to the woods where they meet Elliot. Unfortunately, Gavin also is venturing into the forest with his men set on capturing Elliot for his own financial gain.
Throughout the movie, the forest and the loss of forest land is an unspoken concern. We see that Elliot’s home is threatened and the exposure of humans will not turn out well.
Although the movie it set in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the movie was actually shot in New Zealand and the New Zealand company Weta Digital brought Elliot to life on the screen. The dragon here resembles a griffin in that it has the back legs and tail like a lion, but Elliot had the front legs that also resemble a lion. His head isn’t like an eagle, but his face resembles something between a dog and a great lion. He is more mammalian with fur but he is green. His claws are more dog-like because they do not retract like a large cat.
The CGI is very convincing and the sounds (John Kassir) are very expressive. Elliot is something like a cross between large, sensitive dog and a sociable cat. The Disney Studio store has a bright green plushie and the Build-A-Bear stores have a more earth-tone green Elliot (available with sound). This is a great film for dragon lover, soon-to-be dragon lovers and families who love animals, real and imaginary.