If Disney has a method for developing a story, it’s likely that the plot includes breaking your heart in the opening scene just so it can spend the next hour and a half putting it back together again. So goes the tale of Pete’s Dragon … Parents beware, this remake of the 1977 film by the same name will indeed break your heart, but you’ll leave the theater reminded of the joy that only child-like innocence can bring.
From the opening scene there is a bit of majestic imagery and foreshadowing. Pete, a young toddler, tragically becomes an orphan after losing his parents in a car accident. Just before the crash, we see this family of three in their station wagon enjoying a beautiful drive together. Their life seems picturesque and perfect. It’s clear that Pete is lovingly adored by his parents. From the back seat, Pete reads a book about a lost dog named, Elliot. In what feels like a defining moment within the story, Pete stumbles on the word adventure and asks if it’s scary. His father replies, “are you brave?” His mother jumps in and says, “of course, I think you’re the bravest boy I’ve ever met.” Seconds later, the car swerves to miss a deer and crashes in slow motion. Pete, the only survivor of the crash, crawls out of the car and walks away alone into the woods bringing only the book he’d been reading moments earlier. Fast forward several years later, Pete has learned to live in the forest with the help of his best friend – a dragon he’s named, “Elliot.” His new friend can become invisible and they’ve learned to live together, depending only on each other.
Pete is accidentally found by a forest ranger named, Grace, who has been tracking endangered species in order to protect their habitat from a local lumber company which happens to be owned and operated by her fiancé and his brother. Grace’s dad, Mr. Meacham, is an older man who tells “fictional” stories to the children in town about a dragon he’s seen in the forest. His own daughter doesn’t seem to believe his stories about the dragon. He continually worries that his daughter can’t see the forest for the trees. Although they share a love for the outdoors, Grace hasn’t been able to dream or hope like her father does. She sees the world as black and white and can’t seem to grab onto the magic lurking in the forest thus missing the true beauty that lies beneath. This accounts for one of many nuggets of wisdom the story brings in its plotline.
Grace begins to care for Pete as a mother would and through Pete she is able to begin to hope and dream. The rest of the story unfolds as the one would assume it would with the orphaned boy finding a family and still being able to be connected to the creature that nurtured and cared for him until he was found.
Visually the film beckons Disney’s earlier summer hit, The Jungle Book. The imagery is stunning. The use of computer generated technology and visual effects make Elliot a charming and realistic character in his own right. Elliot and Pete have a strong connection and the dragon brings out Pete’s love of adventure. They spend their days exploring the world together and when Pete jumps off cliffs his best friend catches him every time, as all best friends should do. It’s easy to get caught up in the playful nature of their friendship while watching the richest of relationships grow between a boy and his pet, even if it’s a dragon that no one else can see.
As a mom, the deep, intuitive, life lessons were what drew me to love this movie. Ultimately, it’s a movie about friendship. It’s a movie about growing up. It’s a movie about moving on and becoming who you are, but not forgetting those moments and people that helped you grow into who you are.
I screened this film without our two boys in tow as I wasn’t sure the “adventure” would be suited for them just yet. My advice – if your children can handle the opening scene and the tragedy of Pete losing his parents, I would run, not walk and take the journey into the forest with them. While this won’t be a hit at the box office, it will be one of the more stellar films of the year helping parents and kids alike share this magical adventure back to their childhoods together. It helped remind this momma about the magic that lies in ordinary life. It reminded me to be open to seeing the goodness in a world that sometimes feels heavy and hard. These days that is a welcome outlook!