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Family Movie Review: Pete’s Dragon (PG)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG       Length: 102 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 8+. A very destructive car accident in the first few minutes leave the young protagonist an orphan, as is his dragon friend; the dragon is mostly dog-like but sometimes scary, breathing fire and attacking humans; some gross-out humor in the form of dragon sneezes; a child falls out of a tree and an adult forcibly pulls another child out of one; a dragon-hunting sequence that is hectic and probably frightening for younger children; a couple of jokes mocking women’s looks and weight.

More wistful and introspective than most family movies this year, ‘Pete’s Dragon’ is deeply moving and unforgettably touching. This is thoughtful, timeless storytelling for children and adults alike.

By Roxana Hadadi

PetesDragon ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewIn remaking its classic animated films into live-action versions, Disney has mostly stuck with the original storylines: “Cinderella” barely deviated at all, “The Jungle Book” only slightly tweaked its ending. “Pete’s Dragon” is the first to veer almost full away from its predecessor, resulting in an almost achingly melancholy and deeply moving film, striking in its explorations of loneliness and loss.

It’s been a good year for children’s movies with the witty and socially relevant “Zootopia” and the introspective, mostly-ignored-by-audiences “The BFG,” but “Pete’s Dragon” feels particularly evergreen. It is placed in a small American town that could be anywhere; it is set during a time that could be the 1970s or the 1980s; its intangible details but very specific emotions make the story timeless. Its moments of joy are infectious, and its moments of sadness are heart-wrenching.

You’ll probably cry at some point during “Pete’s Dragon,” and maybe a few days later you’ll remember that scene and tear up again, and you’ll want to hug someone you love and not let go. I know that’s what I’ve been doing. “Pete’s Dragon” will settle in your heart, and your appreciation for it will only grow with time.

The film begins with Pete (Oakes Fegley), a 5-year-old on a car trip with his parents. Deep in the forest, an accident leaves Pete orphaned and alone, hunted by wolves—until a green and furry dragon shows up. “Are you gonna eat me?” Pete asks, but the dragon holds out his paw instead, first for Pete to touch, and then for him to climb into. The dragon has been alone, too, but not anymore—and now he has a name, after Pete decides to call him Elliot.

Six years later, they’re still together, frolicking through the rivers, flying over the canopy, and surviving together in the forest. But the civilization of the nearby town of Millhaven is creeping into their space in the form of forest rangers like Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard, of “Jurassic World”), who comes wandering through their neck of the woods, and mill company employees Jack (Wes Bentley, of “Interstellar”) and his brother Gavin (Karl Urban, of “Star Trek Into Darkness”), who come cutting down their trees.

And things take a turn for the worse when Pete is spotted by Jack and Grace’s daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) and Elliot is noticed by Gavin. The two become separated when Grace and Jack take Pete to town and Elliot is left alone—and the question becomes whether, at 11 years old, Pete needs to be around people now instead of his dragon best friend. “I won’t let [them] hurt you,” Pete had promised Elliot. But can he keep it?

“Pete’s Dragon” is profoundly sad, but its different layers are emblematic of various emotionally true experiences. Pete and Elliot are both orphans, but the bond they form together is life-changing and life-saving. Jack and Gavin are brothers who are often at odds, but their contrasting mild-manneredness and hot-headedness need each other to be level. Grace is all logic and her father, perfectly played by Robert Redford, is proudly skeptical, but they each teach the other a little about magic. This is a movie about balance, about how equally important it is to be challenged and to be loved, and viewers of all ages can appreciate that.

For every lighthearted scene, there’s a heartbreaking one: Pete and Elliot exhilaratingly flying over the lush treetops vs. Pete running through an unfamiliar town to try and reunite with his dragon. Grace bantering with her father about his experience with the famed Millhaven dragon vs. her realizing that his decades of sketches and stories, all of which she doubted, are true. And the finale, which fully captures the idea that if you love something, you have to let it go.

But doesn’t happiness feel more gleeful, more enveloping, once you’ve experienced sadness? “Pete’s Dragon” lives in that space, in that knowledge that adventures can end in either pain or in joy, and that both feelings are worthwhile. It’s a lesson told memorably and beautifully in “Pete’s Dragon.”

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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