Pete’s Dragon is a mix of all kinds of different things that will encourage various emotions in the viewer. If you are looking for a faithful remake of the original, then you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a film with impressive visual effects based off characters you are familiar with, then you will be pleased. If audiences will allow the new Pete’s Dragon to stand on its own, and not expect too much from it going in, then I believe they will be pleasantly surprised. It is an inspiring film that encourages belief in what one cannot see and for this reason, it is an important film for Christians.
Pete’s Dragon has many obstacles to overcome. It is based on a beloved children’s movie that some people are quite passionate about. People have opinions about the film before they ever enter the theater. The film itself is predictable, and some of the characters are one-dimensional. From the moment Gavin (Karl Urban) appears on screen, it is evident he is the bad guy, and it’s not difficult to figure out where the moving is heading. Pete’s Dragon utilizes the familiar narrative of a creature who is misunderstood by the masses and must rely on a few compassionate individuals to come to his aid. Adopting a format that is well-known is not always a bad thing as long as you do it well or do something with it. I am happy to report that Pete’s Dragon does do something special with the familiar story.
Robert Redford plays Meacham, an old man who likes to tinker in his shop and tell stories that seem unbelievable to the neighborhood kids. His daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) works for the forestry department. She does not think too highly of her father’s tall tales. She is a researcher and believes in hard evidence. Although the part Robert Redford plays is small, it is extremely significant to the film. His dialogue at the beginning of the movie sets up everything that will follow. Pete’s Dragon is a critique of modernist thinking that relies heavily on rationalism and the scientific method. Grace is skeptical of her father’s stories. She believes in her work. She believes in what she can see, touch, feel, taste, and hear. She has spent her life in the forest, and she has never seen a dragon. Meacham reminds the children and Grace that there are unseen things that are very real.
I am not sure what C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien would have thought about good dragons, but I believe they would have enjoyed this delightful movie that reminds viewers there is more to this world than what a person can see. Pete’s Dragon is not complex. It does not explore the greater realm of ethics as Lewis and Tolkien did in their works, but it does raise a fundamental question about how people understand the world. Although ethics are not explicitly explored in the film, it does consider questions regarding the source of ethics. Are ethics something people come up with on their own, or are they related to something greater than humanity? These are deep questions, but it is possible people begin to form answers to these questions earlier than one might expect. Lewis, Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton all understood that there is something special about children’s stories, myths, fantasy, etc. Although these stories may not be true, they teach truth, and they prepare people for truth. I believe this is also true of Pete’s Dragon.
Pete’s Dragon is visually pleasing. It tells a story that will be familiar to many adults but will quickly engage the emotions of children. Most importantly, it is a movie with an important message. The writer of Hebrews says, “faith is…the conviction of things not see.” Can a person believe and trust in something or someone they have not seen? The writer of Hebrews thinks so and so does Pete’s Dragon.