The original “Pete’s Dragon” (released in 1977) is one of the more obscure Disney features of the late 20th century, despite the fact that it skillfully mixes live-action with animation in a similar style to “Mary Poppins” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.” It does have a cult following among adults who grew up in that era, however, and for many that love has been passed down to another generation of children.
Now Disney is doing to “Pete’s Dragon” what Disney has been doing to a lot of its movies lately– remaking it. Will that turn out to be a good decision, or a misguided one? Director David Lowery spoke at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood last week to give a taste of what audiences can expect.
“The movie is set somewhere vaguely in the Pacific Northwest, we never quite say where it is, and we never quite say when it’s set– it’s sometime vaguely in the past,” Lowery said. “If any of you have seen my other movies, you know that I love to do the whole ‘timeless’ thing, and this movie definitely plays into that.”
“So it’s set roughly in the late 70’s, early 80’s and Robert Redford stars in this movie as an old timer in a small town who tells stories about dragons to kids– you get the sense he’s been doing this for years. And his daughter is a forest ranger, played by Bryce Dallas Howard.”
“Between what you may have read about the movie and the teaser trailer, you may have gathered that there are some differences from the original film. [But] one big similarity is that we still have Pete, and we still have Elliott. Pete is a little boy who got lost in the woods when he was very, very young, and has been living out there with a dragon. I love that dude. I just love him to death.”
“One of the thing we wanted to do with this movie was really sell the idea of friendship between a child and a creature like that, which really comes down to your favorite pet as a child, or the relationship you have with a dog– that really close bond you can have with an animal. We really wanted to try to hit home the heart of that, but with a creature that is twenty times the size of a normal household pet.”
“Elliott is a big, boisterous, playful dragon, but he also has a very quiet and sensitive side. Even though he is a dragon– a fantastical creature who can turn invisible, we really wanted to treat him like a character, and let that character come through.”
“Ultimately [the movie] really is an adventure. I look back on childhood as an adventure, and I wanted to capture that in the smallest way, but also in the biggest way.”
“Pete’s Dragon” star Bryce Dallas Howard was also on hand to discuss why she chose to participate in the project, and how her love for the story’s first iteration helped shape her decision.
“It was an immediate ‘yes.’ I chased this for quite a while, and was very patient, and it worked out,” Howard remarked. “Prior to reading the script, I had heard that it was not a straight-up remake, and that was the ‘yes’ for me. I love ‘Pete’s Dragon’ and I think in loving it I didn’t want [this] to just be a copycat thing. I feel like we see a lot of those and some of them are great, and some of them don’t work, but I felt like this story and the themes within the original film was what the charm of that movie was.”
“[In the original] there are a lot of weird things, and things that you wouldn’t expect in a classic Disney film. But I think what centered that film, and what has made that film last is the central idea of friendship with an imaginary friend when you have no family. And then, ‘voila,’ it’s not such an imaginary friend.”
“And also, because I can’t help it– I’m a parent and I want there to be beautiful films out there that have innocence and are timeless and have really beautiful values without being didactic. I’m super proud to be a part of this.”
Howard also commented on what it’s like working on big Hollywood effects movies such as this. “It’s pretty typical to assume that there’s gonna be some kind of visual effects in a film these days, and once you do [work with visual effects] a little bit, you get what you need to do to prepare, and what you need to be imagining, and all of that. Certainly with ‘Jurassic World,’ that was a really heavy effects film, but even going back to ‘Spider-Man 3,’ you know that there’s not necessarily someone crawling up the wall.”
Finally, Lowery was asked how it felt to move from his previous film, the gritty Sundance darling “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” to a Disney fairy tale. “I would not have expected to follow up that film with this one. The weird thing for me is that, the reason I felt this was the right movie to make is that the tone didn’t feel all that different. Sometimes I would joke that we were just remaking ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,’ but instead of Casey Affleck it’s a dragon. All the movies I make, I can’t help but make them incredibly personal, and try to just make them mine. That’s just the way I do it.”
“It wasn’t until we finished the first draft [of the script] that I realized this isn’t just a movie that I’m writing for Disney, this is a movie that’s my movie that I want to make. That was a really wonderful realization, because all of a sudden I [knew,] on a personal level, the scope of the movies that I can make and still call my own is much wider than I may have thought.”
“Pete’s Dragon” hits theaters everywhere on Friday, August 12th.
All images Copyright 2016 Disney.