Aah, where to begin. I was five years old when the original came out and it was the first ever film I saw on the big screen. For that experience alone I'll treasure the "old" 'Pete's Dragon' forever.
Now to the "new" film. I'm not normally into family movies, but because I hold such a deep love for the original, I just couldn't resist to go to a pre-screening of this remake. If they didn't honor the original, at the very least I could voice my opinion afterwards on the internet. I needn't have worried - although it may come as a shock to some viewers that the film doesn't have much in common with the original at all. But this new 'Pete's Dragon' is about as far away from a cheap cash grab as it could be.
Unlike the original, the new film starts on a somber note (think the beginning of The Jungle Book, Tarzan or Bambi) in that a little boy is orphaned by an accident and left alone in the woods. But just like the best fairy tales, I feel a good story often needs some darker themes: for without those, the joyous moments wouldn't feel as intense and rewarding. And this is very true here, for what follows is a tale of friendship, adventure, magic and wonder like I hadn't seen since those wonderful Spielberg films in the eighties.
The story is sentimental - but never cheesy - and that is one of its greatest strengths: it dares to have a heart but it's not the kind of over-sugary tripe we so often get from big studios. The film's biggest asset, though, is easily Elliot. I had feared (because I had seen a trailer) that Elliot would be a cringe-worthy CGI creature of the worst kind, but the trailers really did the special effects wizards a bad service: the dragon design is perhaps the most beautiful (and I'm not ashamed to say it: cute) I've ever seen.
It blends perfectly with the natural surroundings (gorgeous New Zealand forests) and while this particular dragon has more traits of a playful, over-sized dog than of a dinosaur, it looks so realistic you believe you can touch and feel Elliot's fur (the 3-d works great for this film), and his face is so expressive you forget you're watching a CGI character.
All in all, this really is a film I can whole heartedly recommend to people of all ages, but if you have kids, watch it as soon as possible, you won't regret it. Despite going down a very different route than the original, it's still a throwback to a different era when Disney made the best quality family films (which were so good they are still immensely popular today), utterly devoid of the now so common cynicism, and full of heart, joy and wonder. 9 stars out of 10.