Pete's Dragon prioritizes atmosphere in the same way that Stranger Things does. You can imagine the "kiddie" version of this movie: precocious boy, fuming parental figures, farting dragon designed to produce plush toys, wacky roller-coaster ride through town. Luckily, director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) maintains composure. The kid actors behave their age. The family dynamics are rich and relatable. The land is real, and susceptible to 20,000lb creatures plowing through it. The picture emits a hazy streetlight glow, even when Pete's racing through the streets like an escaped convict or Elliot's torching a local bridge. The period setting intensifies the boy-and-his-dragon bond; in the age of Facebook bots and cloud-based music apps, a movie relying on compass navigation feels instantly romantic. I'm not a Luddite who wants a rotary phone; they just look good on camera!
Stranger Things made a thrilling case for the significance of John Carpenter, Stephen King, and genre fiction's masters, and Pete's Dragon does the same for storybook wonder, the difference being fallout. While the series drove you to the nearest Reddit threads looking for answers, this low-key Disney blockbuster will have you racing home to hug your cat and believe in the world again. Hope: it's not just for kids anymore!