In “Pete’s Dragon,” writer-director David Lowery sticks to the tried-and-true Disney formula for his earnest remake of the 1977 movie: Dead parents, child in peril, happy ending.

The movie wastes no time in getting the tragedy out of the way with a pre-title car crash. A 4-year-old boy escapes the wreck that occurs on a twisty road way up in the Pacific Northwest logging town of Millhaven. The instant orphan is befriended by a big friendly green dragon, not unlike the Big Friendly Giant of Disney’s earlier summer entry, “The BFG.” Pete names the creature with the endearing eyes, Elliott, after a character in the storybook he was reading aloud to his parents prior to the fatal accident.

Flash forward six years and Pete (an adorable Oakes Fegley) is 10 and lives in a Swiss Family Robinson set-up deep in an unblemished part of the forest. There, Pete and Elliott frolic the day away climbing trees, chasing rabbits and jumping through rivers. It’s every boy’s fantasy. That changes, of course, when the loggers come-a-calling with their heavy machinery and saws.

Conservation themes abound. It’s only a matter of time before Pete’s spotted by a young girl, Natalie (Oona Laurence), the daughter of Jack (Wes Bentley), who owns the logging company.

Jack’s forest-loving fiancee Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park ranger becomes the cookie-cutter mother figure. Up until now, the dragon story has been a local legend perpetuated by Grace’s dad Meacham, a master storyteller played by Robert Redford, who also narrates.

Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) co-wrote the script with first-time feature writer Toby Halbrooks. The result is nothing special. The pacing is slow and leads up an action-movie-like climactic chase. In between, there are gobs of treacly bonding and hugging set to a folk-music soundtrack. It’s all very gentle and simple, lacking the majesty a different director — like Spielberg (“The BFG”) or “Jungle Book’s” Jon Favreau — would have infused.

Karl Urban, as Jack’s lumberjack brother, Gavin, the dragon hunter, is essentially the movie’s villain. Lowery pulls back on the dangerous stuff quickly, showing just enough peril to get his point across. It’s all pretty vanilla, too; ditto for the acting by Howard (“Jurassic World”), Bentley (“Interstellar”) and Redford (“All Is Lost”). But they are really not the main event; that belongs to Pete and Elliott. As Pete, Oakes is irresistible with his long stringy hair, cherubic face and saucer-shaped eyes. Like Grace, you’re going to want to smother him with hugs. The green-furry dragon, Elliott, is far friendlier and less lethal than most movie dragons this side of Toothless. He also possesses the ability to camouflage himself, visible to only Pete. Their scenes together are fun to watch. Really, could there ever be a better best friend than a fire-breathing dragon who likes to cuddle?

— Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.

“Pete’s Dragon”
Cast includes Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Oona Laurence, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. and Robert Redford.
(PG for action, peril and brief language)
Grade: B-