This month marks my 10th year of officially writing movie reviews for the Xpress. I can’t say I’ve learned much (I mean, a decade later and I’ll still watch any old bad movie that passes my way), but I have learned that I loath movies that are “just OK.” These films, the ones I’ll forget about in a couple months, are my least favorite to deliberate on and then sit down and write about. There’s only so much one can say about the perfectly fine. What I’m slowly getting at here, of course, is that David Lowery’s remake of the 1977 family “classic” (I never encountered the thing during my childhood) Pete’s Dragon is the wholesome, quaint embodiment of that sort of gentle mediocrity. The look of the film is agreeable, the soundtrack is interesting, the cast is good and the overall tone of the film is well-meaning. But it’s nothing to get excited over, other than the simple fact that it’s a kindhearted, classy family movie in a world where that sort of idea usually feels verboten. The best compliment I can usually think of is, “At least it’s not Suicide Squad.”
What Lowery and company have done is update the original Pete’s Dragon — the dragon is CGI instead of a creation of hand-drawn animators — and add an amount of melancholy to the plot, with the titular Pete (the impossibly named Oakes Fegley) being orphaned after a car crash kills his parents. He then runs into the woods and finds his dragon, a furry, green thing named Elliott who can fly around and turn invisible. The duo spends some years hiding in the wilderness (Pete is more or less feral, though he can speak English pretty well) until a logging operation starts to encroach on their home and the orphaned Pete is found by a park ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard), her friend (Wes Bentley) and his daughter (Oona Laurence). With Pete taken in, Elliott starts searching for his pal while a group of loggers, led by the especially nefarious Gavin (Karl Urban), begin to hunt the mythical beast.
Pete’s Dragon is straightforward as far as the plot goes, doing what’s expected of it and nothing more. While that’s commendable — it’s saccharine and touching enough to work — there’s just not much here to truly get jazzed about, let alone to hold much interest. This is truly Pete’s Dragon‘s biggest sin, since this has all the trappings of a movie that should be fascinating. Director Lowery was, briefly, an arthouse darling (or at least on the cusp of it) with the indie curio Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), a languid, formless and mysterious little drama. Going whole-hog Disney and doing it in none-too-spectacular fashion isn’t very reassuring. He adds little points of interest here and there — the film certainly looks nice and the soundtrack (with artists like Leonard Cohen) is curious — but that’s about it. As a whole, Pete’s Dragon is innocuous, and kids should enjoy it well enough, just don’t expect much more than that. Rated PG for action, peril and brief language.
Now playing at Carolina Cinemark, Carmike 10, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.