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Movie Review: The Remake of 'Pete's Dragon' Is Remarkable

It’s always fun to see what a good director can do with uninspired material. Sometimes we’ll see a movie with a dull, or even bad, story, and we’ll say something like, “well even Spielberg couldn’t have saved that one.” But what if—and stay with me—maybe he could?

In this case I’m talking about David Lowery, who isn’t Spielberg, but he’s very, very good already, even though he’s only directed a handful of features. His new movie, The Green Knight, comes out this week, but I want to look back at his 2016 remake of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, which you may have missed if you don’t have kids, unless, like me, you’re a big Lowery fan.

Remaking their own movies seems to be Disney’s stock-in-trade right now, and the results have often been big, but not necessarily good, at least not enough to make you see any reason to have remade them in the first place. And while Pete’s Dragon is pretty minor Disney, they did put a lot of money into this remake, and on the surface it’s hard to see why. The screenplay isn’t bad at all, but the storyline is almost exactly the story of E.T., which also means it’s the story of a zillion movies that came after E.T. Seriously, you could write out the plotline right now.

But it’s the texture of the movie that completely absorbed me, despite knowing what would happen at every turn. Lowery’s films have this ethereal quality that’s a little hard to put your finger on, but that pull you in to their rhythms—he seems to have a connection to quietness and the natural world that’s just a little bit like the great Terrence Malick, who must be one of his influences. There’s a gentleness and kindness to his Pete’s Dragon that you couldn’t expect going in, and a little bit of that magic and wonder that can, on rare occasions, really elevate a children’s movie to a special place. What Lowery does around the by-the-numbers skeleton of the movie is kind of remarkable, and, hard as it may be to believe, it raises Pete’s Dragon to a new classic of children’s cinema.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.