The new Pete’s Dragon roars into theaters this Friday, and it isn’t the film your parents remember. Here is a list of things you need to know before viewing this movie.
It’s not a remake
According to recent press release, despite the name and premise, the new Pete’s Dragon has very little in common with the original film, and that was by design. Disney wanted to see what could be done with the same basic elements that wouldn’t compete with the original, but instead, would complement it.
Walt Disney Studios released the first movie in 1977 that starred Mickey Rooney, Helen Reddy, Red Buttons, and Shelley Winters. That story is set in New England during the early 20th century where a 9-year-old orphan escapes the home of his abusive adoptive parents with the help of an invisible cartoon dragon.
In the 2016 version of Pete’s Dragon, the story takes place in a more modern setting in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Elliott is technically animated in this tale as well, but in the form of computer generation which makes for a more realistic-looking creature. In this story, Pete is a 5-year-old abandoned orphan who is found by and cared for by the dragon.
It was not filmed in the Northwest
The town of Millhaven is a fictional town located “somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.” Then again, the Pacific Northwest featured in Pete’s Dragon is fictional itself. Unlike the new Jungle Book where the whole jungle was computer animated, the forest in this movie is real but was actually shot in New Zealand. Why? Executive Producer Barrie M. Osborne shot all three of The Lord of the Rings movies in New Zealand thought the area looked more magical.
“Between the manpower and the people that I’ve worked with and the organizational ability and the infrastructure of New Zealand, it had everything we needed,” he says. “The movie takes place in a very realistic world but we’ve heightened it just a bit to capture the magic of a child’s perspective of the world. We wanted the trees to be a little bit taller, the sun a bit brighter and the wind to have that sort of magical quality, and we found that just walking out the door in New Zealand.”
It does not have a distinct setting for time
Just as Pete’s Dragon’s filming location is vague, so is the setting of the film. The film doesn’t feature cell phones or computers and the clothing styles are someone nondescript. “I find that the movies that I return to and that I love the most, are the ones that don’t feel dated…films that endure because they don’t root themselves in a specific time,” says director David Lowery. “So by just setting this story in the past and not making a big deal out of it, it makes everything congeal into this cohesive hole that doesn’t have a literal date on it but that feels like just yesterday.”
It is one of Bryce Dallas Howard’s favorite stories
Actress Bryce Dallas Howard went from playing against computer-animated dinosaurs in Jurassic World to animated dragons in Pete’s Dragon. The new role that suits her just fine as her character in the latter is nothing like that in the former.
She is a big fan of the original tale. “It was one of my favorite films as a child,” Howard says. “One of my earliest memories of watching a movie is watching Pete’s Dragon. There’s something singular about that film…I don’t know what it is, but it immediately touches the inner child in me.” She’s a big fan of the new film as well.
“I loved the tone of the script, and David was not looking to step on people’s memories of the first film, but wanted to create a film that could stand side by side with the original. It is a smart, family film but it’s also a compelling adventure, too, and I believe audiences are craving a family film that’s smart and emotionally engaging. The best Disney films are cathartic and feature characters that start with nothing and end up receiving more than they could ever have hoped for, and they provide children with opportunities to process difficult feelings, which this film does as well.”
— HitFix (@HitFix) August 10, 2016
It has a new dragon
Elliott in this version of Pete’s Dragon is different as much as he is the same from the original. The new Elliott is green like the original, but he doesn’t have pink spots; but he does have the same playful and friendly personality. As for scales, this Elliott doesn’t have any. Instead, Elliott is very furry. He was created with about 15 million individual hairs. He’s a friendly beast and that made it hard for visual effects supervisor, Eric Saindon.
“It’s easy to make dragons look scary and it’s easy to make them look ‘cartoony,’ but we didn’t want either of those for this dragon. We wanted him to have a lot of character so that everyone comes out of the theater in love with him.”
To help the actors relate to a character that wasn’t actually there, a giant inflatable dragon with the same dimensions of the “real” Elliott was used to give the actors a better sense of his size and help them achieve close eye contact with the mythical creature.
It’s Robert Redford approved
Robert Redford plays the role of Bryce’s father Mr. Meacha in Pete’s Dragon. He is a woodcarver and unofficial town storyteller. He also believes in dragons much to his daughter’s dismay.
“I’m a storyteller, and I believe in storytelling, so I told my kids stories. I think it’s really invaluable. In fact, I think ‘once upon a time’ is one of the greatest phrases imaginable. When you’re a kid and you hear ‘once upon a time,’ it’s ‘ah, I’m going to get something now.'”
“I think the story crafted here is very human and quite interesting,” says Redford. “It is an intimate story of a father, a daughter and a boy who has survived an accident and gone into the woods, and it has a lot of magic, but at its core, it’s a very emotional, human story.”
[Image via Walt Disney Pictures]