Director David Lowery Makes PETE’S DRAGON More Of A Reimagining, Than A Remake

On August 12, 2016 Walt Disney Studios will introduce the world to a reimagined version of the 1977 classic film PETE’S DRAGON.  Remaking any classic movie that is beloved by so many can be a daunting task and recently the new film’s director David Lowery (AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS) was joined by actress Bryce Dallas Howard at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood, where they gave the press an advance peak at the movie before discussing what went on behind the scenes.  Four clips from the film, as well as a new trailer, were showcased and I have to admit that as skeptical as I was regarding this reboot, because I am a big fan of the original, the scenes that were presented had a truly magical quality to them, making me feel a lot more confident in what the studio will be offering audiences in August 2016.  Check out the newest trailer…

The story of the 2016 version of PETE’S DRAGON, which director David Lowery proudly called “The PETE’S DRAGON for a new generation,” tells the adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley), a mysterious 10-year-old who has no family and lives in the woods with a giant, green dragon named Elliot.  When Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a young forest ranger, meets Pete, she decides that with the help of the 11-year-old Natalie (Oona Laurence), she will set out to determine where Pete came from, where he belongs and the truth about his best friend/dragon Elliot.

PETE'S DRAGON

A re-imagining of Disney’s cherished film, PETE’S DRAGON is the story of a boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) and his best friend Elliot © 2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When setting out to retell the story of Pete and Elliot, Lowery decided that he didn’t want to do a literal remake of the earlier film.  Instead, he took what he called “the purist tactic” and created a whole new story while still trying to stay respectful to the original.  He stated, “I wanted this to really exist in it’s own realm.  The best thing is for audiences who love the original to see this and say, ‘This is a great new film about a boy named Pete and (his dragon) Elliot.’  Bryce Dallas Howard added to this by telling everyone that even though she’s a big fan of the original, she was actually drawn to the film because of the fact that it was actually a new story being told.  “I loved PETE’S DRAGON.  I mean I have the little board book for my kids and I read it to them constantly.  I think that in loving it I didn’t want it (the remake) to be just 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…  So when I heard that it wasn’t a straight up remake, I was like, ‘Yeah, I would love to be a part of that.’”

PETE'S DRAGON

Oakes Fegley is Pete and Oona Laurence is Natalie, photo by Matt Klitscher © 2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

Since one of the most important characters in the story is a 10-year-old boy, Lowery knew that how he handled the young characters would be very important to setting the tone.  He decided to use his own memories of growing up as inspiration while writing the script.  He explained, “I look back on childhood as an adventure and I kind of wanted to capture that in the smallest way, but also in the biggest way.” Later in the discussion he came back to this thought and said, “I wanted to be respectful of children and their feelings and to be accurate to my memory of what it was like.  When the characters are hurting or when their feeling feelings I wanted to be really true to my memories…  I wanted to be true to that.” Howard also chimed in about the importance of treating kids with respect in the story.  “The reason why I love my children to watch movies with children in them is…  it empowers them…  it contextualizes there own story, their own belief system and there own kind of emotional value.  They learn to value their feelings… Being in a film where the protagonist is a child means that everything around it needs to be all the more honest, all the more real and it’s all the more important, because you know that children are going to watch it and it’s going to have an impact on them.”

PETE'S DRAGON

Bryce Dallas Howard is Grace, Robert Redford is Mr. Meacham and Oona Laurence is Natalie in Disney’s PETE’S DRAGON ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

Of course, part of getting the younger characters right came from the casting process.  Lowery described how he came to the decision to cast the young Oakes Fegley as the lead.  “I wanted someone who was a little unvarnished and not perfect and didn’t have that sort of trained quality.  I often find that if a 10-year-old can cry on cue that it’s an amazing skill that I am envious of, but that’s usually not what I’m looking for.  I love working with kids and I love just kind of creating a context for them to be themselves and then sitting back and letting them do that… You say here’s what the scenes about, they’ve read the page, they got the dialogue, they get a sense of it and they can just be themselves.  I want to see them processing things as they would in real life.”  He continued, “And what Oakes did… He walked in the room and it was one of those classic things where you’re like, ‘Oh, well it’s him.  Great.  Done.’  Lowery then went on to describe how Fegley handled the routines that they had been using to audition the young kids that were up for the role.  “I try to come up with things for them (The Child Actors) to do and I was like ‘I want you to just take every chair in the room and just build something with it,’ or ‘I want you to finds someone in the room and sneak up on them’ and I would just watch everyone do that and he (Fegley) would do things like that and he just had that quality…  he wasn’t just showing off.  He wasn’t trying to impress me.  He was just instantly like, ‘Okay’ and then he would go and do it.  And the way he did it was just fascinating.  I would just watch him stack trashcans on top of a chair and build like a rudimentary HOME ALONE style trap and you could just see what he was thinking about.  He would look at it and make a little adjustment and I’d think that that’s key, that’s exactly what I want him to be.  And he also had that sensitivity, but also the resilience where you believe that he could survive in the conditions that his character survived in.  He was really tough and scrappy, but also so quiet and sensitive.  He had the perfect balance of those two things.”

PETE'S DRAGON

Oakes Fegley is Pete, photo by Matt Klitscher © 2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

Howard described her experience working with Fegley as “Wonderful” and went on to say,  “There were often times when I would ask Oakes for direction.  I would say ‘What do you think’ and Oakes would really know what to say.  He reminded me of my dad (Actor/Director Ron Howard) in a lot of ways, because it’s just sort of this talent…  He’s a self-aware person, but he’s not aware of the extent of his talent and he’s just like really relaxed about it.  He really understands a movie set…  To get a kid that’s not self-conscious, who has that talent, who has this deep sensitivity and intuitiveness and empathy…  It was amazing working with him.

Howard also made sure that everyone was aware of the other young member of the cast Oona Laurence, who she called a “young Meryl Streep.”  “Me and Robert Redford would always just look at each other after she did anything, I mean she just did everything perfectly.”  Lowery then added,  “She commands the camera like nothing I had ever seen.  The close-ups of her are just nuts.”

PETE'S DRAGON

A re-imagining of Disney’s cherished film, PETE’S DRAGON is the story of a boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) and his best friend Elliot © 2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

With so many films today relying heavily on the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), Lowery decided that he wanted to do this movie with as many practical’s as possible.  What this means is he wanted to use actual locations and real situations rather than relying on special effects and green screens, especially since Elliot himself would be completely digital.  He commented, “For me I just like things to be real.  So when we were planning this I was like ‘Look we already have a giant CGI Dragon, but lets make everything else real and have as little green screen as possible.’  I just wanted to make this completely real.  So we went to New Zealand…  It (the film) is set in the pacific Northwest, but it’s a slightly elevated and more magical version of the Pacific Northwest and New Zealand’s got plenty of magic on hand and it had the forest we needed and the weather we needed and it also had Weta Digital there which was very convenient.  We would get up every day and drive two hours into the middle of the forest to shoot these remote redwood groves, because we wanted it to really feel like the best version of being out in the woods and the best version of running though the forest and so we found these locations that were absolutely beautiful and of course the beautiful ones are the hardest to get to.  But that was really important just to make the movie feel more grounded because, again, we do have this twenty foot tall dragon to unground you every step of the way if your not careful.  By just doing that it established not only that sense of reality, but also that was the look of the movie.  That was the mist flowing through the tree trunks and the quality of the bark and the pine needles on the ground, that all informed the esthetics of everything we were doing…  I just think that it makes a real difference to do it for real.”

PETE'S DRAGON

Bryce Dallas Howard is Grace and Robert Redford is Mr. Meacham, photo by Matt Klitscher © 2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

Audiences won’t truly know what to think of the updated version of PETE’S DRAGON until it’s released in theaters later this year, but after hearing director David Lowery and star Bryce Dallas Howard discuss the behind the scenes, while also getting to witness some interesting new clips from the film, I have to admit that it seems as if we may actually be in for a truly magical experience.  PETE’S DRAGON opens wide across the country on August 12, 2016.

PETE'S DRAGON

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About Mark Oguschewitz

Mark Oguschewitz moved to Los Angeles, California after graduating with a film degree from Columbia College in Chicago, Ill. Pursuing a career in the industry, Mark became an award winning freelance editor. He is also known for being the creative consultant for the podcast "Skywalking through Neverland" and co-host of the Podcast "Talking Apes TV." Mark's short film "Gourmet" took the Best Micro-Short honor at the International Horror and Sci-Fi film festival in 2007. His spare time is all about movies. It's not just entertainment, but has become more of a real passion, as he tries to see everything he can. Art house or Blockbuster – It doesn't matter, he loves them all.