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Pete's Dragon (2016): Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Pete's Dragon (2016) movie poster Pete's Dragon

Theatrical Release: August 12, 2016 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: David Lowery / Writers: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (screenplay); Malcolm Marmorstein (original screenplay); Seton I. Miller, S.S. Field (original story - uncredited)

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard (Grace Meacham), Robert Redford (Mr. Meacham), Oakes Fegley (Pete), Oona Laurence (Natalie), Wes Bentley (Jack), Karl Urban (Gavin), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Sheriff Gene Dentler), Marcus Henderson (Woodrow), Aaron Jackson (Abner), Phil Grieve (Bobby), Steve Barr (Deputy Smalls), Keagan Carr Fransch (Doctor Marquez), Jade Valour (Nurse Merriwether), Esmιe Myers (Mom), Gareth Reeves (Dad), Levi Alexander (Young Pete)

Buy Pete's Dragon (2016) from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

Walt Disney famously declared, "We keep moving forward,
opening up new doors and doing new things." The company bearing his name, however, has had tremendous success in recent years by looking back and treating the studio's highly regarded films of the past to lucrative remakes (The Jungle Book, Cinderella) and reimaginings (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland).

Pete's Dragon is a reimagining rather than a remake of the 1977 musical comedy of the same name, which overcame mixed reviews to have endured four decades somewhat well-known and relatively well-liked. This new version takes the idea of a boy who befriends a generally invisible dragon and throws out everything else from the original film to create an overdramatic adventure more in line with modern tastes. It loses a lot of appeal in the process.

Elliot makes himself seen to both Pete (Oakes Fegley) and Natalie (Oona Laurence) in 2016's "Pete's Dragon."

The film opens with 5-year-old Pete (Levi Alexander) on a car ride with his parents. One deer encounter later, Pete is an orphan, though one who is soon being looked after by the large, friendly, and furry green dragon he comes to name Elliot. Personified by Don Bluth-directed traditional animation in the original film, this Elliot is of course rendered in photorealistic CGI. We jump ahead six years and find that Pete (now and henceforth Oakes Fegley) has evolved into a Mowgli of the Pacific Northwest, a wild child who has somehow avoided notice and survived on the kindness of his one and only friend, a dragon.

The friends' adopted town of Millhaven is also home to forest ranger Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose long-widowed woodcarver father (Robert Redford) excites kids with dubious tales of the time he once saw a dragon in the woods. After six years on his own, Pete finally crosses paths with civilization and comes to be taken in by Grace and befriended by Natalie (Oona Laurence), the daughter of Grace's lumber mill owner beau, Jack (a traditionally bearded Wes Bentley).

Upon seeing Elliot, Jack's brother Gavin (Karl Urban) becomes obsessed with hunting and catching the giant winged beast. This provides the central conflict of the film, as Elliot is jeopardized.

Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her father (Robert Redford) smile at the sight of "Pete's Dragon."

One questions the purpose and wisdom of a remake that takes a film's title and concept while discarding everything else that made it what it is. The original Pete's Dragon is old and dated enough to require reinvention rather than a straight retelling, which would be a pointless exercise in its own right. But director/co-writer David Lowery shows zero regard for the source material and everything he replaces it with feels generic and underwhelming. Turn-of-the-century New England fishing town Passamaquoddy becomes an unremarkable logging town evidently in the late 1970s.

Mickey Rooney's alcoholic kook becomes a Robert Redford sage who goes missing for a solid hour of the film. The charming musical numbers of Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn are gone, with nothing more than some folksy period radio tunes in their place. Snake oil salesman Doc Terminus, hillbilly family the Gogans, and the lighthouse setting: gone, gone, gone, without anything you could even consider to be substitutions.

Editor-turned-director Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) is no family filmmaker and though he's been tapped by Disney to helm another one of these live-action remakes in the upcoming Peter Pan, he doesn't seem well-suited to the genre. Pete's Dragon aims for the feel of the kind of family films that Lowery grew up on, like E.T., but it relies too much on convention and not enough on invention. There isn't a character here we develop a liking or appreciation for. Not even the mostly nonverbal, camouflage-equipped, kind-hearted Elliot wins us over, as easy as that should be.

Pete's Dragon is very much in line with Disney's other live-action 2016 output, Jon Favreau's smash hit The Jungle Book and Steven Spielberg's summer flop The BFG. I expected the movie to perform like the latter, its source not exactly breeding universal awareness/appreciation and its stately yet bland composition not exactly finding the all-ages entertainment value of Jungle Book. It did do slightly better than that, grossing $75 million domestically, which is nearly acceptable given the relatively modest budget of $60 million, far less than most of the studio's new films). Still, given the fairly warm reception, there is no reason to think Disney is going to move away from this type of production, which has paid off more often than it hasn't.

Pete's Dragon recently hit home video on DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Pete's Dragon (2016): Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.39:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The new Pete's Dragon has a somewhat distinctive look, which is rendered well in the Blu-ray's 2.39:1 presentation. The element stays clean, sharp, and well-defined throughout and that's what you want and expect of a 2016 studio film. The 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack should also meet your expectations, with its occasional potent effect and easygoing soundtrack.

Writer-director David Lowery shares some thoughts from his production diary in "Notes to Self." Director David Lowery gets Oakes Fegley acclimated with the giant bright green stand-in for Elliot the dragon's head.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with "Notes to Self: A Director's Diary" (7:31), which gathers David Lowery's thoughts on the eve of production and throughout the early 2015 New Zealand shoot. It's a bit different from the usual making-of featurette, suggesting a more personal nature to the filmmaking than your usual big studio tentpole.

"Making Magic" (2:12) briskly and non-specifically addresses the visual effects used to bring Elliot to life.

A partially visible Elliot sneaks up behind Gavin (Karl Urban) in this "'disappearing' moment." Oona Laurence makes a silly face in the bloopers reel.

Keeping up with the slightly unconventional extras design, "'Disappearing' Moments" (9:12) forms a montage out of deleted and alternate moments. Lowery really sees this film as more soulful and special than you might (and I do).

A reel of bloopers (1:28) preserves cast goofs, laughs, and shenanigans.

The longest extra by far is the feature audio commentary by director & co-writer David Lowery, co-writer Toby Halbrooks and child actors Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence. That lineup inevitably makes this something of a filmmaking for youngsters track. Fegley even loses a baby tooth while recording this.

Lindsey Stirling fiddles under the stars in the "Something Wild" music video. Elliot comes and goes on the Pete's Dragon main menu.

The extras nearly draw to a close with two music videos: "Nobody Knows" (3:12) by the Lumineers and "Something Wild" (3:45) by Lindsey Stirling featuring Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.
Both take the standard approach of alternating between film clips and footage of the band performing. While the Lumineers stick to an ordinary recording studio, Lindsey and company take to the forest, the desert under the stars, and other locales.

Finally, "Welcome to New Zealand" (1:56) allows the cast and crew to speak highly of filming there. You're welcome, New Zealand tourism board!

The DVD only includes "Making Magic" in the way of bonus features.

Both discs open with the unrevealing teaser for 2017's Beauty and the Beast. Their menus' Sneak Peeks listing runs promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Conservation Fund, Disney vacation packages, and "Elena of Avalor" before repeating the Beauty preview.

The main menu provides a cliff's edge view, allowing Elliot to poke us head up or take flight over the listings.

The standard side-snapped keepcase is topped by an extensively embossed slipcover which is topped by two stickers, one with a To/From gift tag and one touting the film's Certified Fresh status on Rotten Tomatoes.

A Mowgli of the Northwest, Pete (Oakes Fegly) is a real wild child!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though most critics and moviegoers seemed to enjoy 2016's Pete's Dragon, I found it to be a pointless remake offering nothing special in place of the original movie's joy and charm. Disney's Blu-ray combo pack delivers strong picture and sound plus a decent handful of distinctive bonus features. If you like the movie, then this edition will do. But I'm not convinced you will or should like this movie.

Buy Pete's Dragon (2016) from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Pete's Dragon (1977)
New to Disc: The BFG • The Jungle Book (2016) • The Wild Life • Space Jam (20th Anniversary Steelbook) • Nine Lives
The BFG • How to Train Your Dragon • Race to Witch Mountain • Pan • Escape to Witch Mountain
Bryce Dallas Howard: Jurassic World • The Help • The Village • Hereafter
Robert Redford: Captain America: The Winter Soldier • Truth | Wes Bentley: The Hunger Games

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Reviewed December 7, 2016.



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