Walking into the cinema....
This does not look like the animated Disney adventure from previous decades. Will it still have the same magic?
What is faith? It could be said that faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.* Even when others do not believe, faith does define the human condition. This is true in the life of Meacham (Robert Redford), who lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. He believes that a dragon lives in the deep recesses of the forest. His faith is not a blind faith, but one based in his own personal contact with the magical beast, but he has a hard time convincing others. Even though he is relegated to sharing his tale of magical beasts with the children of the community until the little community is turned upside down with a discovery by his daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). As a park ranger, she finds Pete (Oakes Fegley), a 10-year-old orphan amongst the trees of the forest. As the mystery unfolds of the boy’s survival story, Meacham’s fables become more of a reality to their family and the small logging community.
For fans of the 1977 musical, Pete’s Dragon, this retelling of the friendship between a boy and his dragon is similar in title only. This does not diminish the magical journey told by relatively unknown director, David Lowery. His reimagining of Elliott the Dragon and Pete’s connection still contains the emotional power of the original without having to incorporate musical numbers. There is a strong need for audiences to engage their suspension of disbelief to accept the inability of the small community to come in contact with the boy and his furry friend for a decade. Yet, Lowery did make this plausible due to his placement of the story in the pre-internet era of the 1970’s.
Pete's Dragon suffers from the inevitable comparison to the other Disney release, The Jungle Book. The dragon tale struggles to rise to the same cinematic level of Mowgli's adventure. The key difference is the development of the characters surrounding the boy at the heart of these wilderness coming of age plot lines. Even though the animals in The Jungle Book were all computer generated, they provide more dimensional value than many of the human characters of Pete's Dragon. Thankfully the love between Pete and Elliot provided enough magic to keep things alive and propels the story along. There is an environmentalist undercurrent that almost derails the film, but Lowery manages to bring the focus back to the human element and wraps things up nicely in the end. Redford, Howard and Karl Urban (Star Trek Beyond) provide some of the acting credibility for the overall experience, but their roles were two dimensional in comparison of the central theme of the boy and his dragon. Oakes Fegley does manage to carry the film with a huge boost of his green best friend.
What is refreshing to see is Disney getting back to well-told, straightforward stories that centre on family and their value. Pete's Dragon is not trailblazing, but even though most of the story and the visuals have been experienced in other films, it is a good alternative for families looking for a enjoyable night at the cinema. Not all films need to push the barriers of filmmaking, but they do need to entertain their target audience and this forest excursion delivers on many levels. A refreshing choice for parents of small children.
During a recent family screening of Pete's Dragon, three boys and two girls went along and here are their responses after the film.
From five to eleven years of age...
"It was really good because of it's 'epicness'! (What does that mean?) Because it was so cool how everything about the film was put together so well! Also, I really liked that the dragon could turn invisible. It is a real good movie! Cooper - 7 years old
"It had lots of action and you should go because it really great. It is a movie that makes me laugh and cry. Everyone should go see it." Toby 8 years old , turning 9 this month
"It was a little scary" Jonty - 4 years old
"I loved the film! It had action, family and a great story about friendship." "It reminded me of some of my other favourite films, but it was really good." Caroline - 11 years old
"I liked everything about it. I really liked this film!" Chloe - 11 years old
There you have it! The reviews are in from the very audience that it was made to please. Well done to our junior review team!
*Hebrews 11:1- Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
The imagination of a child or the ravings of an older man could be dismissed within any community, but what about the idea of God? Throughout human history the discussion about God's existence has been the subject of many conversations, arguments and even wars. A film like Pete's Dragon can be dismissed as mere cinematic fluff, but it does open the door to a bigger consideration. Can we believe in something we cannot see? Fortunately, society does not have to be left in the dark on this idea. Faith is at the heart of the biblical narrative. Believe it or not, today might be a good time to consider finding the answers to the faith questions.
Where do you go in the Bible to find the answers? Proverbs 3:5-6, Matthew 21:22, Hebrews 11, James 2:14-26