Charming fantasy adventure will make you believe
PETE'S DRAGON (PG)
Do you believe in dragons?
You certainly will by the conclusion of David Lowery's charming fantasy adventure, which reworks the beloved 1977 Disney musical of the same title as a rip-roaring story of devotion between an orphaned boy and his mythical protector.
State-of-the-art special effects magically bring to life the titular behemoth - a gargantuan fluffy green beast, whose inquisitive and playful demeanour suggests it might be the love child of Sulley from Monsters, Inc and Falkor the luckdragon in the Neverending Story.
Lowery's film possesses a similar sense of wonder as those two family favourites, underscored with life lessons about the self-sacrifice that springs naturally from an enduring friendship.
The lean script, co-written by the director and Toby Halbrooks, is punctuated with thrilling action sequences and doesn't saturate the screen with mawkish sentimentality.
In fact, the film delivers a hammer blow of heart-breaking emotion in the sombre opening sequence to rival the animations Bambi and Up.
Very young children may need a comforting snuggle as life and death skip hand-in-hand in these beautifully crafted frames.
A little boy called Pete (Levi Alexander) is orphaned in a road accident and left to fend for himself in the forest that buffers the community of Millhaven.
The helpless and tearful child is rescued from a pack of hungry wolves by a green dragon, which the boy names Elliott after a character in his picture book.
For six years, Pete (now played by Oakes Fegley) and Elliott grow up side-by-side beneath the forest's lush canopy till a logging operation led by lumber mill owner Jack Meacham (Wes Bentley) and his brother Gavin (Karl Urban) disturbs the peace.
Jack's wife Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is a forest ranger, discovers Pete living wild and spirits him back to civilisation.
The orphan bonds with her daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) and father (Robert Redford), who claims to have seen a dragon many years ago.
Grace has always rejected the old man's outlandish tale.
'Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it's not there,' he reminds her.
However, the ranger cannot believe in the existence of mythical beasts, even when Pete draws a crayon picture of his best friend.
'I know those woods like the back of my hand,' Grace tells her husband Jack. 'I couldn't have missed a dragon.'
Pete's Dragon casts a heady spell by combining solid, old-fashioned storytelling with dazzling visuals.
The delightful bond between boy and beast is lovingly sketched in the opening 30 minutes, so when they are separated, every fibre of our being roots for a rousing reunion.
Digital trickery melds seamlessly with live action, and terrific performances from the human cast are anchored by relative newcomer Fegley, whose expressive eyes reflect his pint-sized hero's aching loss.
Do you believe in dragons? I do.