Well, this movie was… nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be, especially considering how bad the trailers were. Overall, the remake has gotten a lot of favorable reviews and ratings, and while I can see where those opinions come from, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the story. On the whole, I’d say that the remake is cute and harmless, and it’s most certainly not a carbon copy of the original. The plot isn’t half-bad either, but the story is just so derivative that you’d be better off spending your time watching something else, like Ghostbusters.
Spoilers up ahead.
The premise of this movie goes something like this: there’s a boy, and he has a dog dragon. This point is hammered into the viewers over and over and over again. Pete, the boy, begins the story in a car ride with his parents, learning to read from a children’s book about a dog called Elliot Gets Lost. His parents are so supportive, loving, and caring that they forgo watching the road to instead tell Pete what a wonderful and brave little boy he is before a CGI deer jumps in front of their car. In the ensuing crash, Pete’s parents die, but thankfully for Pete, a giant green dog with wings shows up to adopt him.
Pete names the dog Elliot, who spends the movie growling, whining, chasing his own tail, and [insert random dog action here], and they live in the woods for the next six years together. This Elliot, unlike the dragon in the original, is not a benevolent creature that exists to save children who need help. He is simply a dragon that got cut off from his own family and can’t find his way back. As such, the emotional connection between him and Pete, as the two rely on each other, is actually pretty well done, and since we also learn that Elliot has anxiety issues when it comes to humans and is scared of them, it kinda makes sense that he didn’t just fly Pete to a town.
However, the movie goes straight downhill once Pete is found by the other characters and is forced to live among them. When the humans also discover Elliot, Elliot decides it’d be best for Pete to stay with the other humans, and then Elliot goes off to live with his own family, because apparently he could have done that at any time. Probably one of the story’s biggest problems is the pacing. Pete and Elliot get six years together. Pete and the other humans get a single night—and yet we’re supposed to come out of this believing that Pete, someone who’s also horrified by modern civilization when he’s forced into it, is happy living there in the end. No, seriously. Pete gets a whole two days among other people, and at one point someone reads him Elliot Gets Lost as a bedtime story. For some reason that’s enough for Pete to form a deep connection to the other human characters.
That’s another thing: the characterization ranges from passable to paper thin. The original Pete’s Dragon was much more focused on Pete’s relationship to the other humans, because that’s who he was going to live with someday. As such, the movie needed to make their relationship believable—which is why Pete lives with them for a good long while before Elliot takes off. In the remake, we never really get a sense that he can connect with the other characters. They’re kind and gentle with him, but what else? What about them does Pete actually like? I couldn’t tell you. Nothing about this movie makes any of the characters feel real. There’s a young girl named Natalie who’s about Pete’s age, and Pete first reveals himself to her because… the movie needed him to be found. He and Natalie become friends, but we never get a sense of why. She’s just a sweet perfect angel who’s not at all put off by finding a half-naked boy in the woods. Not two days later, she’s proclaiming that she’d be sad if she never saw Pete again.
The same thing goes for Grace, the woman who eventually adopts him—or kidnaps him, whichever term you prefer. There is a subplot where Social Services comes to take Pete away, and Grace responds by simply keeping him. This subplot is never resolved. But even if that weren’t an issue, she is also the epitome of angelic and her only character flaw is not believing in dragons. At one point, she tells Pete that he’s a brave little boy, just like his own mom did before she died, because the remake is incapable of being subtle at all.
There’s also the fact that none of the characters have to give anything up in the end. Even though Elliot flies away to be with his family, Pete now spontaneously knows where that is, so Grace can take him to go visit every once in a while. The movie tries really hard to tug at your heart strings and make you so happy that the boy and his dog get to be together. I feel as though I could have just rented The Good Dinosaur and had the exact same movie experience.
The Pete’s Dragon remake is certainly not the worst movie I’ve seen this year, and given some of Disney’s other remakes, it’s really good in comparison. Unfortunately, you’ve definitely seen it before because it doesn’t do anything new. I suppose I should also mention that there’s maybe one Black character, who hardly features, and adding Natalie’s character in was less female representation and more forced heterosexuality than anything else. I didn’t hate this movie, but it would have been nicer to watch something different.