You'll note that I put "classic" into quotation marks when talking about this trend. That's because Pete's Dragon can hardly be called a classic. As with every Disney movie, there is a portion of people who love this movie, but I'd argue that the childhood nostalgia factor plays a much bigger role with that crowd than some of Disney's other movies that still hold up when you re-watch them as an adult. Simply put, the original Pete's Dragon is really not that great of a movie. Fun idea, but poorly executed on just about every level. And it's not remembered nearly as well by the general public. It only has a 6.3 on IMDb with a mere 16,940 votes. Compare that to Disney's The Jungle Book from 10 years earlier, which has a 7.6 score on IMDb with 123,542 votes. On the critic's side of things, Pete's Dragon carries a 48 percent on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the 86 percent that The Jungle Book has. So if it wasn't as well-liked or remembered, then why did Disney select it as their next project when they had so many better options to remake? You got me. That's why I wasn't expecting anything from this at all. Which is a big part of the reason why this shocked the heck out of me. If you would've told me back in May that Pete's Dragon was going to be one of the summer's best blockbusters, I may have laughed at you.
As far as the story goes, Pete begins the movie as a 5-year-old kid going on an "adventure" with his parents. Sadly, they get in a car crash and Pete is the only one that survives. Out in the woods all alone he runs into a dragon and the two of them become best friends. Six years later, Pete has become a little Tarzan kid who has developed a very strong bond with this dragon, who he has named Elliot. Due to a certain chain of events, Pete gets forced into the real world after being found by a certain family and thus is separated from Elliot. While he's figuring out how to adjust to the real world, Elliot is out to find where he went, but instead runs into the wrong crowd and thus is hunted by this small group of people led by Carl Urban as he is deemed dangerous. First off, Elliot is definitely what I call a dragon dog. I referred to him as this before I saw the movie because he looked like a mix between a dragon and a dog. That title rang even truer as I watched the movie because Elliot also acts like a mix between a dragon and a dog. I was worried about this heading into the movie, but I fell in love with Elliot so fast. He is an adorable little dragon dog with an incredible personality and a ton of emotion. The chemistry between this CGI dragon dog and this 11-year-old Tarzan kid is incredible. The look on Elliot the dragon dog's face when he was sad tore me up.
This dragon dog might actually be the best character in this movie and if you're a pet lover like me, I'm sure you'll fall in love with him just like you would with your own pet dog. Right along with this dragon dog is the incredible performance from the young kid who plays Pete. It's hard to develop a great, believable relationship with an animal on screen, especially if that animal is a CGI animal that's not actually there during filming, but this kid pulls it off. It's so good that the movie pulls at your heartstrings on multiple occasions, both in sadness when they are separated and in joy when they are together. But this kid is also incredible when he gets forced into real life and has to adjust. The performance reminded me a lot of Jacob Tremblay in Room in how he reacted to the real world like a normal kid that age would react. And speaking of relationships, he also develops an incredible relationship with the young girl in this family who adopts him. The friendship between those two kids is just a joy to watch unfold and both child actors deserve some serious praise for their roles. Bryce Dallas Howard and Wes Bentley play the couple who take Pete under their wing and I have to say that this is a pretty solid on-screen family that is put together here with the frosting on the cake being the great Robert Redford as the grandfather.
It's been a very average summer to say the least. Even movies like Jason Bourne or Suicide Squad that I personally enjoyed I realize could've been a lot better and thus didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations. On top of that, there were a lot more movies that were flat out duds. Pete's Dragon is a movie that I was totally expecting to fall right into this pattern and be a throw-away movie in the middle of August that would be worth ignoring. But I was so wrong. Yes, this is a Disney movie directed at family audiences, so it's not going to do anything crazy or unpredictable. But this feels like an old-fashioned Disney movie that plays all the right notes and plays them very well. It's emotional. It's heartbreaking. You may need to take some tissues with you. But it's also inspiring and teaches a fantastic message to young kids while providing them with a fun adventure. This is not quite on the level of The Jungle Book remake back in April, but it's a whole heck of a lot closer to that than I was expecting and is honestly more enjoyable than most movies I've seen this summer. Pete's Dragon was a huge surprise for me and a huge win for Disney in terms of quality. I feel totally comfortable awarding it a 9/10.