Film resource: Pete's Dragon (2016)

Find out more about Pete's Dragon, Disney's latest live-action family film about an orphan and his dragon.

Pete’s Dragon is Disney’s new family film which is due to be released in the UK on 12 August. Some of you might remember the cartoon film from the 70’s upon which this new version is based. This new live-action version, however, has even more depth of emotion and thrill of adventure. Spoiler alert – we will share the storyline and some thoughts on the film below! This is not a review of the film, but we hope it will give you an opportunity to consider how your family might engage with the film and to think through the implications for looked after children.

Pete’s Dragon begins with a scene in a car with five-year-old Pete and his parents. As Pete is asking what an adventure is the car crashes. Pete manages to struggle free but there is no sign of his parents who are killed in the crash. Pete is left to walk into the woods alone where he meets a dragon (who Pete later names Elliot), with whom he bonds and becomes friends.

Six years pass and it is clear that Pete and Elliot have been living together in the forest and looking out for each other. There’s a lot of imagery of fun, play, trust, protection, care and mutual affection. However, this all changes when Pete comes across people from the local town who try to take him back to civilisation.

To begin with, Pete panics and tries to escape the people and the town that they’ve brought him to so that he can return to Elliot. He runs through the town and ends up trapped in an alleyway, crying and howling for Elliot. This glimpse of his anxiety at being separated from Eliot is touching and very emotive.

Pete stays with the family he first met for one night, as they agree to take him back into the woods to see Elliot the following day. Elliot has also been thrown into a panic looking for Pete and finally finds him in the house he’s staying. Elliot peers through the window and sees Pete being read a book by the dad of the family. Throughout the film there are moments of complex emotions where Pete struggles to choose between staying with Elliot and becoming a part of the new family he’s found.

High adventure ensues as Elliot is captured by some local townsfolk and it’s up to Pete and his new friends to save him. The final climactic moments involve a tense car chase and a fiery struggle on a bridge before Pete and Elliot finally fly off together to safety. The family who had befriended Pete are walking wearily, and rather sadly, to their house when Elliot brings Pete back to join them.

The closing of the film sees Pete with his new family travelling to see Elliot with his new family (of dragons).

Although the film has a “happy” ending, there are some authentic moments of loss throughout that may trigger difficult emotions for children who have experienced profound loss. It may be that some of the themes of moving on and separation are particularly painful for children who are in foster care or have been adopted. In discussing the film with them it may be that the following questions are helpful for you to consider as a family:

What part of the film did you most enjoy? How did the film make you feel?

Do you think Peter and Elliot were just friends or did they become a family? What makes a family? What is important about being a family? Was it a good idea for Pete to join the family at the end of the film?

In what ways is your/our story different from Pete’s? How do you feel about it? How can we best support each other?

Ethos Media have prepared some resources which families can use to explore together the themes of faith and family that are evident in the film. The activities in this free activity book include colouring, physical games, crafts, quizzes and food ideas. They are all suitable for children or a mixed-age audience, and are particularly suitable for bringing different generations together.

If church leaders would like to use this film to explore the theme of family, Ethos Media have also created some free all age service resources. To find out more about Ethos Media, view the movie clips and printable resources, click here.

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