Pete's Dragon Gets the "Remake" Treatment
*Disclaimer: I was invited (with guests) to partake in an advanced screening of Pete's Dragon. We were given a meal, meeting op with one of the stars, a lunch cooler, and a Parks Blog hat. I was not obligated to write anything in exchange. All opinions stated here are my own.*
Pete's Dragon is not the first (nor will it be the last) Disney classic to undergo a revamping. Goodness knows I am definitely not on the remake-lover list, but, objectively, I'll certainly give Disney that they are (on average) doing a better job of it than most brands. Of course there are the ones I wished they'd never disturbed (Herbie, Oz, Alice in Wonderland), but I've been coming around to the idea since Cinderella and Jungle Book were pretty exceptional. My skepticism tends to run highest turning the trailer period, when my childhood favorites are getting this wash of dark/ edgy/ modernism. I HATED the Jungle Book trailers. Hate is a strong word, but I felt it. I was concerned about Pete's Dragon, because the trailers made this film look super dark and ominous and doom doom doom.
I am very happy to report that, at the advanced screening I attended August 3rd, this is not the case for the film in its entirety.
Is it a bright musical romp with a green and hot pink fluffy bumbling dragon and singing counterparts? No. Is it still a quality film to enjoy with your family? The consensus among myself and my guests was Yes. I'll return to more thoughts on the movie after I recap the fun we got to have sans-peanut.
I got the invite about a week ago and got super excited to see I COULD INVITE GUESTS (the last few events have been guest-less). Yay! My kid! Oh wait... They aren't even starting the movie until 9 pm? No dice with my 4 year old. Maybe my husband can watch her... but my husband loves Pete's Dragon more than I do... wait... BABYSITTERS!! Those are a thing, right? Also my friend Gina is obsessed with Pete's Dragon, and Ado helped me get into the Zootopia screening... Hey! I can do grown up things with other grown ups! YES!
The screening would be outdoors at Fort Wilderness. Forgive my skepticism at the possibility of anybody enjoying an August evening in Florida, but somehow Disney worked their magic and managed a mild, rain-free, gently breezy event. I was pretty excited to get to check out the Fort Wilderness resort, since I'd never been.
Drove right past the entrance the first time. Oops. #TOURISTThe little girl in me who was obsessed with horseback riding fell a little bit in love with Fort Wilderness. Ponies. Ponies everywhere...
The facilities at this resort are MASSIVE. We parked in the overflow lot, then got on a bus that took us past several campgrounds before disembarking near where the Trail's End dining can be found (I hear great things, have never been). We waited briefly in line before being escorted back to the Mickey's Backyard Barbecue area for dining.
We took in the nice spread of food before partaking of the photo op spot. How adorable is Gina with her Elliot Funko? I was impressed he fit into her teeny tiny purse.
Donald Duck came to say hi, complete with Ranger hat borrowed from Pharell.
How do I pose for pictures without my kid? Awkwardly. As the food was wrapping up, our Parks Blog hosts came out to talk to us about the event and to introduce us to the star of the movie, Oakes Fegley. I was wondering if this was his first role, but IMDB proved me very wrong on that. Impressive, dude! Turns out Oakes and his family are getting the full Disney treatment, and they were all in town to watch the film with us for the very first time! If you're wondering, Oakes' favorite ride is Expedition Everest or Test Track. Here's Oakes discussing working with Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford in the film.
We all got the opportunity to meet Oakes, and he was a total pro. So polite. So professional. Not that it's surprising. I awkwardly told him congratulations, and some well-intentioned lady took an out of focus picture.
With some time to kill before the screening, I wandered around the facilities a bit. The sunsets at Fort Wilderness are absolutely breathtaking.
We passed a massive fence which I assumed blocked a waterway. I was partially correct. Ado let me know that if I peeked through a hole in the fence, I could get a view of the fabled/ abandoned River Country! *Gasp*
We made our way back to the screening area where popcorn and water was plentiful. I slapped an endless supply of hopefully zika-free mosquitos away from my ankles while the ParksBlog screened a few charming behind-the-scenes featurettes, showed trailers for upcoming Disney releases, and explained how the film was shot mostly in the woods of New Zealand and how they felt this screening would be a real-life immersive experience.
Ah, the best intentions... The screen and projector were both super high quality. They had an impressive surround-sound set up and subwoofers that had me convinced that Elliot's rumblings would blow out my speakers at home. But there were plenty of times, for better or for worse, when we couldn't tell what was surround sound from the film and what was Disney life. Multiple times my husband and I looked at each other wondering if we were hearing some weird variance in Elliot's voice, only to realize it was yet another set of fireworks going off around the parks. Speaking of fireworks, Wishes was pretty clearly visible through the trees just behind the screen. As well as the Water parade. Gina and I couldn't help ourselves when that campy muzak rendition of "You're a grand old flag" could be heard moseying along the waterway. The water dragon float seemed to park behind the screen for a strangely long time. I speculated it was a photo op and Gina and I should run for it, but in the end we held back and stuck with the movie.
Something to know about me: Pete's Dragon was never my favorite Disney classic. I'm not saying I didn't like it, but I certainly didn't have the attachment to it that my husband or Gina did. While my disdain for Maleficent was frequently brought about by my inability to NOT compare it to the original, I've been making more concentrated efforts going into these remakes to try to evaluate the film completely on its own. Recent interviews with the filmmakers of the new Pete's Dragon revealed that they had a deep love for the original, and wanted to make sure that this film was significantly deviated since they didn't believe the original SHOULD be rehashed. Ok. Good.
Knowing all that, the film is VERY different from the original. Yes, there's a green dragon, but there's a lot less "magic" (he can disappear, but he isn't this Mary Poppins-esque character that appears and disappears when he's needed). There's a lot of human-based conflict. There's no singing (plenty of songs in the soundtrack with lyrics... not sure how I felt about having those in there). Only a few very scattered nods to the original. I really enjoyed the character design of Elliot; they channeled so many of the charming aspects of the original character while still creating a creature that seems as plausible as any dragon could living in the forests. There are lots of changes to the story line, particularly the ending and Elliot's backstory/future (but that's all I have to say about it, no spoilers). The acting from all involved is solid, unforced, and subdued. You'll fall in love with a giant fuzzball dragon the moment he wraps Pete in his arms, and you might even get choked up a few times (there was a mosquito in my eye, leave me alone). Disney also said one of their goals with the marketing of Pete's Dragon is to encourage kids to get outside more and to get involved with conservation. The film was shot on location mostly in New Zealand. Most scenes are outdoors in the woods, and they are BEAUTIFUL. Once my kid gets the chance to see this film, I'm pretty certain she'll fall 100% head over heels for this snuffling dragon with an underbite (who strongly resembles a dog we had that passed last year, other than the green aspect). If Elliot is "outside," I can guarantee my kid will be all over embracing the great outdoors.
Verdict: Evaluated independently of the original, Pete's Dragon (2016) tells visually stimulating, heartfelt story of a little boy and his charming dragon that can be enjoyed by anyone.