Set in a pocket of the Pacific Northwest during a blurred stretch of the early '80s, Pete's Dragon crouches down to see the world from a 10-year-old point of view. After his parents are killed in a car accident, Pete (Oakes Fegley) retreats to the woods, surviving under the wing of a doglike dragon named Elliot. Six years later, lumberers force the undomesticated boy into the hands of Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard from Jurassic World), a park ranger who must piece together his spectacular origin story before hunters discover and bag Elliot. Robert Redford plays the ranger's eccentric father, who saw the dragon decades earlier, and whose eye-glint alone makes the people around him believe in magic.
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!