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Pete’s Dragon

Year: 2016
Studio: Disney
Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery/Toby Halbrooks/Malcolm Marmorstein/Seton I Miller
Cast: Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence, Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Robert Redford

Disney's plundering of its back catalogue goes deeper with this reimagining. The 1977 original was pretty widely liked but by no means the classic many other Disney reduxes being made or greenlit right now are such as Pinocchio, Mary Poppins or Beauty and the Beast.

But it was a fun enough idea that actually translates pretty well to the modern era now computer animation can give the visuals of the creature in full flight. Say what you like about the charm (or otherwise) of the original film, it was an artifact very much of its time as a hand-animated dragon was transposed manually (and clunkily) onto live action.

The only similarities are the central relationship the title refers to. Pete (Oakes Fegley) is orphaned and stranded in the woods of America's remote Pacific northwest (actually filmed in New Zealand) when something huge comes out of the darkness.

Fast forward a handful of years and he's now a feral child not unlike The Jungle Book's Mowgli, living a kid's dream life of sleeping in a cave and spending his days flying, splashing in the river and playing with his now best friend Elliot – a huge, shaggy green dragon with the demeanour of a curious puppy and the size of an African elephant.

Coincidentally, the kindly old Meacham (Robert Redford) from the nearby town likes to tell local kids about the time he came face to face with the dragon the area is famous for. Along with everyone else, his daughter, park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) smiles and shakes her head, assuming he's just a good storyteller.

But when the logging company her boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley) works for penetrates further into the forest than it ever has, Pete reveals himself to the family by following Jack's daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence).

Grace convinces Pete to come back to civilisation and the mystery about how a little boy survived for so long by himself in the forest is on. At the same time, a distraught Elliott puts himself in similar danger of being seen by flying into town looking for Pete.

When Gavin (Karl Urban) – Jack's brother who owns the logging company – sees Elliott and becomes determined to prove the dragon exists, it sets up a classic cat and mouse game of Pete and Elliott trying to get back together while forces both good and bad conspire to keep them apart.

It's very sweet and cute, the story's solid and the dragon effects are very well done, with Elliott seeming as much like a living creature as any digital character has in ages. Director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) told reporters he wasn't ultimately worried about comparisons to The Jungle Book and he needn't have been. Pete's Dragon is a classically scripted three-act adventure that doesn't tax you too much but stands ably on its own huge, shaggy feet.

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