There is a scene in “Pete’sDragon” where Robert Redford’s character talks about the life-changing magic of simply beholding a creature as wondrous and magnificent as a dragon. It’s ironic such a speech should take place in a movie that is surprisingly dull and joyless.
“Pete’s Dragon” is a remake of the 1977 film of the same name that was best known for being a live-action/animation mashup and for Mickey Rooney and Red Buttons attempting to set a record for stupefied double-takes.
The original “Pete’s Dragon” wasn’t much more than a goofy flight of fancy. The remake, while well-made and well-acted, feels lifeless and uninspired.
The premise is a little different this time around as young Pete (Oakes Fegley) is orphaned by an accident deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, where he stumbles upon a massive, kindly green dragon who has the power to turn invisible.
Pete dubs the dragon Eliot after a character in his favorite storybook and the two live a happy, wild life in the forest for six years.
But civilization encroaches and Pete is discovered by saintly park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), her logging-manager boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley), and his daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence).
While Pete becomes torn between rejoining the human race and heading back out into the woods to live with Eliot, Jack’s redneck brother Gavin (Karl Urban) learns about Eliot and performs the perfunctory villain role of assembling the mob with torches and pitchforks.
This movie unfolds at a glacial pace with the biggest spark coming surprisingly from Redford as Grace’s dad. Probably not the best sign for your family movie when the liveliest performance comes from a septuagenarian.
The clunky tone of the movie has to be laid at the feet of director David Lowery, who co-wrote the screenplay with Toby Halbrooks.
Lowery is a talented director who helmed the moody and atmospheric “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” “Pete’s Dragon” is the classic case of right director, wrong movie. While his slow-burn style works great in a tense crime drama, it falls flat in a movie that looks to gobsmack an audience with awe and wonder.
Lowery also tries to work in some moralizing on the impact of man and greed on nature, but it is a well-worn path and he doesn’t really have anything new to say.
From a technical standpoint, “Pete’s Dragon” hits all of its marks, but it’s never any fun. You would think that would be the top priority in a story about a boy and his dragon.
“Pete’s Dragon” is rated PG for action, peril, and brief language.