pete's dragon poster

“The weird thing, for me, is that the reason I felt this was the right movie to make was because the tone didn’t feel that different [compared to my past work]. Sometimes I would joke that we’re just remaking Ain’t Them Bodies Saints with a dragon instead of Casey Affleck,” director David Lowery says, comparing his upcoming fairy tale, Pete’s Dragon, to his meditative and somber 2013 drama. “All the movies I make I can’t help but to make them incredibly personal, try to make them mine. That’s just the way I do it.” The co-writer/director didn’t expect to follow up his acclaimed tone poem with a Disney remake, but once he and Toby Halbrooks finished the first draft of the script, he thought, “Of course this is the next movie I’m going to make.”

Below, check out our Pete’s Dragon preview.

Disney recently held a preview event of Pete’s Dragon, which follows up their massively successful remakes of The Jungle Book and Cinderella. Pete’s Dragon is perhaps the studio’s loosest remake to date. Though it’s based on the 1977 musical, gone are the songs and the fishing town of Passamaquoddy. Set in the Pacific Northwest, Pete (Oakes Fegley) has been living in the forest for over six years. How a child survives for that long alone, as Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) says, doesn’t add up. Mr. Meacham’s daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), discovers her father’s grand tales about dragons may not have been made up after all, because Pete’s best friend, Elliot, happens to be a 20-foot-tall dragon.

Here’s a quick rundown of the clips:

  • Mr. Meacham tells a group of interested kids about the “new haven dragon” and his encounter with one of the animals. The kids hold onto his every word, while Grace appears slightly less enthralled but charmed by the story she’s heard a thousand times.
  • The second clip highlights Pete and Elliot’s friendship. They play around and go flying. It’s as if the camera is trying to keep up with Pete and Elliot in this scene.
  • Mr. Meacham, Grace, and Natalie (Oona Laurence) greet Elliot for the first time. Mr. Meacham, Grace, and Natalie are in awe, and this encounter shows how expressive Elliot is. He’s shy and cautious in this scene, the complete opposite of the big, happy-go-lucky dragon we saw in the previous clip.
  • The last clip should go unspoiled, since it’s from around the third act, but it features the antagonist of the film, Gavin (Karl Urban), who’s cutting down the forest. His brother, Jack, is played by Wes Bentley.

The dragon no longer has its colorful shades of pink, but that’s not the only departure from the original film. What Lowery’s remake does draw from the musical is Pete’s love for Elliot. “Before I read the script, I heard it was not a straight up remake,” Howard told us after we watched the clips. “I love Pete’s Dragon. I have the Little Golden Book for my kids, and I read it to them constantly. I think, in loving it, I didn’t want it just to be a copycat thing. We see a lot of those. Some of them are great, some of them don’t work. I felt the [main] story and themes within the original film was the charm of that movie. Otherwise, there a lot of weird things and things you wouldn’t expect in a classic Disney film, but what centered that film and has made that film lasting 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.”

That not-so-imaginary friend is a massive, friendly dragon, full of emotion. The clips each focus on a different feeling of Elliot’s — happiness, skepticism, and fear. Whether he’s joyful or fearful, he comes across as a gigantic dog you want to embrace, which is Lowery’s intention. “I want this to be the kind of dragon you want to give a hug to,” Lowery explains. “The best way to do that is to make him furry. There’s no reason why dragons can’t be furry. I went through the design process, figuring out what design choices would break him being a dragon. There were certain things we found we can’t do. When we started playing with the wings, the wings started to feel like a chimera or other various mythical beasts or snakes. If we kept the wings, the tail, and the ridges on the back, you kind of get to have fun with the rest of the design–and it still feels like a dragon. The fur was just an integral part of the design. That made the character.” The furry dragon bears little resemblance to Ken Anderson‘s original design, but this version of Elliot has the same sense of innocence, in both its childlike facial expressions and clumsy movements.

Here’s Lowery’s original sketch of Elliot compared to the final design:


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