For the most part, the movies Disney has chosen to remake have made a lotta sense: "Cinderella," an iconic fairy tale, "The Jungle Book," great characters and music, and the upcoming "Beauty and the Beast" looks beautiful, but "Pete's Dragon?" Ugh, even as a kid I thought it sucked.
That's why this new version is such a surprise. It's a thrilling adventure story so well crafted it manages to get you emotionally invested in a computer animated dragon. Disney keeps hiring smart, innovative filmmakers to do these re-makes. Here, they trusted indie filmmaker David Lowery, who made a great little crime drama called "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" a few years ago. And Lowery seems to know how bad the original 1977 movie was, so he threw most of that out save for the main character names.
Young Oakes Fegley is a real find as Pete, a boy left in the woods after a car crash killed his parents. He's turned into a little Tarzan spending his days with his best friend, a dragon he calls Elliot. When Pete is found by a forest ranger, played by a lovely and ernest Bryce Dallas Howard, she starts to unravel the mystery of who this boy is. Robert Redford is Howard's crusty old dad, who's been telling stories for years about seeing a dragon in the woods.
"Pete's Dragon" follows the familiar model set by "E.T." and "The Iron Giant" about a boy and his other worldly friend and the grown-ups trying to tear them apart, but it works very nicely. The movie also resists the worst Disney instincts - there are no musical numbers, the dragon doesn't talk, but there is plenty of hugging and learning. And I got caught up in it because I'm a big softy.
"Pete's Dragon" is a delightful surprise in a summer that's been severely lacking them.