It’s been a weirdly disappointing summer at the multiplex. We got off to a great start with Captain America: Civil War, but it’s mostly been a string of disappointments since. Nice Guys and Neighbors 2 were both fantastic, but they were released the same weekend and were mostly buried in Captain America’s wake. Ghostbusters was good, but was overshadowed by politics. No one saw the funniest movie of the summer, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Suicide Squad, Bourne, Independence Day, The Legend of Tarzan and Warcraft were disappointments, while others could best be described as “fine,” like Star Trek and Now You See Me 2.
I did like Central Intelligence and it should live on in cable for years, and I thought Bad Moms was fun. The big winners of the summer, however, may have been the kid offerings (Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory) and the horror films (The Purge: Election Year, Conjuring 2, and The Shallows).
The best movies of the summer, undoubtedly, were the indie flicks Swiss Army Man followed by Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Don’t Think Twice, but the most magical movie you could watch in any multiplex in any city in the United States was and still is the surprisingly tender, heartwarming Pete’s Dragon.
The movie came out over the weekend and made a modest $21 million, but it’s a movie that deserves a much bigger audience. It has the biggest heart of any movie of the summer, and it’s as enjoyable for a 40-year-old single guy skipping out of work for the afternoon as it would be for a six-year-old girl and her parents. The movie is magic. It’s Iron Giant crossed with E.T, a tender tale of a boy and his playful dragon.
Bryce Dallas Howard, sans heels, stars as a park ranger, Grace, who comes upon an 11-year-old boy, Pete (Oakes Fegley), who has been living in the forest in the six years since his parents died in a car accident. Pete managed to survive with the aid of his best friend and playmate, Elliot, a puppy-dog dragon who manages to escape detection with the powers of his invisibility. Grace — whose father (Robert Redford) has been spinning tales of a dragon in the forest for decades — takes Pete in, only to be met with resistance from a boy who only wants to go back home to live with his best friend. Gentle, predictable complications arise when Grace’s brother-in-law, Gavin (Karl Urban), comes upon Elliot and decides make a trophy of the dragon.
There’s nothing particularly original or surprising about Pete’s Dragon except in the way it tugs at heartstrings. It’s potent, capable of reducing nearly anyone to sobs, not out of sadness, but out of appreciation for the extraordinary, enchanting friendship between a wide-eyed boy and the dragon who protects him. While Stranger Things has been able to recapture much of the Amblin magic and translate it into television, Pete’s Dragon is the closest thing to the old Steven Spielberg going on the big screen, The BFG included. You won’t find a sweeter movie in a theater near you anytime soon.