It wouldn't be a Disney film without one or both parents being eliminated early on, and "Pete's Dragon" is no exception. Pete (Oakes Fegley) is on an adventure with his mom and dad when a deer jumps in front of their station wagon. The car flips, leaving Pete an orphan and all alone in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. When he is surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves, a rather large green dragon comes to his rescue.
It's a frightening beginning to an otherwise charming story about a boy named Pete and his dragon, whom he names Elliot. Together these two best friends survive in the forest for six years. A forest ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose father, Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford), has regaled the local children with tales of said dragon, wanders deep into the woods and is espied by Pete, who pilfers her silver locket.
Grace's fiance Jack (Wes Bentley) and his daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) are in the woods checking on a crew cutting down trees when Natalie sees and chases after Pete. When Grace and Jack find them, Pete, the mysterious child living alone in the woods, is forced to go with them and leave poor Elliot behind. Jack's greedy brother, Gavin (Karl Urban), catches Elliot and claims him as his own. It is left to Pete and Natalie to release Elliot and send him back to his home.
Fegley is as precious and precocious as humanly possible. In a year thus far filled with other movies revolving around charming youthful characters, both animated and live, this darling child is up there with the rest. He is so darn cute without being overly saccharine. He is able-bodied even with his tiny frame, and we really feel the bond between him and Elliot.
These types of films always tear me up. I cried like a baby during "The Iron Giant" (1999) --- and to this day I cannot hear the song from "Dumbo" without wailing. "Pete's Dragon" is no different. When Elliot is secretly watching and listening outside the window as Jack reads Pete's favorite book to Natalie and Pete --- well, let's just say there weren't enough tissues in my purse. Elliot is a big furry dragon that one simply wants to curl up with and read a book --- he's so endearing.
The rest of the cast is okay, with Laurence and Redford as the standouts. Oona, too, is adorable, and she and Fegley connect immediately with great chemistry. Redford is terrific no matter what. He's grown into the perfect grandfather figure, and I love him helping the two kids save Elliot.
"Pete's Dragon" is nearly perfect family entertainment. Our screening was in 3D, but I am not sure that's necessary. Grab your children --- or go alone!
Opinion: See It Now!