Another year, another reboot. Between Jurassic World, Terminator: Genysis, Ghostbusters and a plethora of other movies, remaking films or churning out more sequels is just thing to do lately. As much vitriol as fans express over remade movies, many of them turn out pretty well in either terms of box office success or critical acclaim. This year’s reboot of Pete’s Dragon is no different. With its modern-ish setting (director David Lowery describes the time period as “yesterday,” filming it as part of the early 1980s), wondrous new dragon, and a new cast of characters, Pete’s Dragon may become a bigger favorite than its predecessor.
While the original Pete’s Dragon had musical numbers, some fun animation, and the biggest talent of the time headlining the production, this new movie has incredible CGI, an even more popular cast and is set in New Zealand, giving it a much wilder and more natural feel than the original.
Certified as “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, Pete’s Dragon is being hailed as “majestic,” “wonderful” and “timeless” by critics in the film’s latest trailer. Some are even calling it “a new Disney classic.” Now that the movie’s out in theatres, keep in mind these 15 Reasons Why You Should See Pete’s Dragon.
15. It’s NOT A Musical
Some people love musicals. Some hate them. While Pete’s Dragon may be still be a Disney a remake of a musical film, it’s not a musical in any way. This should entice a larger audience to venture out to see the film. Given that only around 32% of Broadway goers are men, the lack of show tunes and dance numbers may increase the number of men who see Pete’s Dragon in particular.
If that fact leads to some disappointment among children hoping to catch the movie this weekend, take heart: it means more story development, less cheese factor and more dramatic sequences than its predecessor. Instead of listening to Helen Reddy sing about child abuse, audiences will be able to enjoy much more tension building and character growth. From E.T. to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, there are plenty of non-musical family movies that have made it big to pave the way for this one.
14. Lindsey Stirling Is Involved
Just because a movie isn’t a musical doesn’t mean that it won’t have a soundtrack, and Pete’s Dragon has a pretty stellar lineup of music to help set the mood for the film. Acclaimed violinist Lindsey Stirling is on the soundtrack. Stirling is not only known for her raw, emotional music, expressive dancing, and fantastical persona, but also her sense of humor. She once played a hilarious role on the popular YouTube series Bored Shorts, where she parodied herself with the help of a child’s voice.
The score of Pete’s Dragon was completed by Daniel Hart. Hart has worked with Lowery before on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, so the two know how to blend song and cinema well together. Hart is currently developing the score for the television series The Exorcist and has worked on films like Comet in the past. His subtle yet moving compositions and deft hand at guiding music should provide audiences with the delicate balance needed in a film’s score. It needs the ability to build tension and carry emotion without being noticed beyond the story itself.
13. It Has An All-Star Cast
The original Pete’s Dragon film may have featured Mickey Rooney and Helen Reddy, but the new film has a much wider cast of A-listers. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Grace, a forest ranger, who finds Pete instead of lighthouse keeper Nora. When Screen Rant caught up with her for an exclusive interview, Howard said that her children are especially excited about her working with dinosaurs and dragons. “My kids have my Lego character. I found out that my daughter was carrying me in her pocket when I was out of town one time. Yeah, she carried me in her pocket the entire weekend,” she laughed.
Grace’s father, played by Robert Redford, is a fan of the local forest lore and likes to tell tall tales that may just be true. Wes Bentley has a role in the movie as the father of Pete’s friend, Natalie. Karl Urban is the film’s villain and says that the movie is perfect for the whole family. “I think it’s going to have a wide-ranging appeal, particularly for younger kids to early teens and even parents are going to enjoy it. It’s in a great tradition of Disney films that were around in the ’70s and ’80s.”
12. Pete Has No Terrible Foster Family
One of the more annoying facets of the original Pete’s Dragon film is the inclusion of Pete’s backwoods hillbilly abusive foster family who sang about the merits of “owning” him in their charming song, “We Got a Bill of Sale Right Here.” Judging by the trailers and the information we know, Pete is strictly an orphan in this version of the story, living in the woods for six years with no one but his dragon. There is no mention of an adoptive family. While that does not necessarily mean no foster family is involved, at least there will be no Deliverance extras serving as major plot points in the film.
Lucky for audiences of the 2016 version of the movie, no backwater foster family means more time for development of actual plot, with a story that should yield more danger and action. Should a foster family become a plot point, they won’t be singing while they chase Pete through the swamp, either.
11. Elliot Is A Realistic Cat-Dragon
Elliot is a more realistic, CGI dragon, not the Don Bluth one fans grew up with. Seeing How to Train Your Dragon’s catlike Toothless was has audiences clamoring for more cute, Falcor-style dragons than the fire-breathing terrors that typically come out of Hollywood. The new Elliot, another catlike creature — complete with fur, is already so beloved that he has his own Build-a-Bear. And yes, it purrs.
Audiences should not expect garish pink accents or a goofy, round face on this dragon, although filmmakers did experiment with the original colors before opting on something that looked more realistic with the New Zealand forest. Elliot’s makers pored through funny videos of animals on Youtube to gain inspiration for his final look. The idea of a larger-than-life creature was always the goal. Says production designer Jade Healy: “There’s one video of a giant panda tumbling in his cave, and we looked at that again and again as our Elliott — this big animal who just doesn’t know what to do with his body.”
10. Promising Newbies
Audiences should expect big things from the kids in the cast as leads in the movie. When Screen Rant caught up with show stars Oakes Fegley, who portrays Pete, and Oona Laurence, who plays his friend Natalie in the film, the costars dubbed it the “new and improved” Pete’s Dragon. Fegley told Screen Rant, “I’ve seen the movie now after filming this. It’s completely different, not even remotely the same.” The Pete in the new film does seem much wilder than the Pete of the 1977 movie, which will be an interesting take on the character. He isn’t even fully dressed, whereas the former red-haired Pete wore long sleeves and dirty overalls.
Laurence said, “I’ve wanted to do a Disney film for as long as I can remember. Yeah, it’s just really cool that I got the opportunity.” Laurence still has yet to see the original film. Early reviews of the film say that the two steal the show, so both young actors’ careers will be worth watching in the years to come. Laurence, 14, also plays Matilda on Broadway.
9. Robert Redford Earned It
How does an actor earn a patron’s ticket sale? By performing well in a film–or maybe by enduring some trials and tribulations. While Robert Redford did not lose a bunch of weight or walk a tightrope of death while making the movie, he definitely had some strange adventures during filming. For starters, he was dropped off at the wrong location once during production, so he had to hitchhike to the correct location. Given that this happened in the New Zealand wilderness, he must have had quite an adventure before he arrived on set.
Redford also rescued an abused horse on the way to work one day. Redford, a known animal lover, coordinated a rescue effort for an emaciated horse who had no food or water. Bryce Dallas Howard said, “There was a horse who was clearly abused, who was tied to this wooden fence that was right by the freeway,” and that the cast saw it every day. Not only did Redford rescue it himself, but he also made en effort to find out who was responsible for its suffering.
8. A better villain
The movie’s villain, Gavin, is a hunter who is after Eliot. This may elevate the element of danger from the previous film, during which Elliot’s big threat was a snake oil peddler who wanted to harvest his dragon entrails for medicinal purposes. Given that the “doctor” typically sold items with zero medicinal value in the first place, it gave the film a bit of an unbelievable stretch, and even when Elliot was captured in a net, the peril did not feel as real as Pete’s danger facing abusive adoptive parents. Having Elliot hunted by someone with real know-how could dramatically change that.
People can’t really relate to weird doctors selling their wares out of the back of a cart, but they can relate to hunters, particularly after being exposed to social media stories. Today’s audiences demand something more realistic, and between watching Jimmy John’s CEO shooting exotic wildlife and teens shooting giant wild boars in their own backyards, a hunter storyline lends the film more credibility. Even so, the danger may not be too real for a family audience. Lowery says, “Let’s have him be just a dunderheaded guy who ultimately turns out okay.”
7. Pete’s Casting Was Inspired
Most actors expect to deliver some lines during a casting call, but the young actor who landed the role of Pete, Oakes Fegley, was selected entirely upon his wild imagination. After witnessing thousands of kids auditioning for the role, movie makers asked some of their favorite picks to sneak up on people the way a creative, mischievous child might. Fegley was also asked to build things out of chairs to demonstrate his level of imagination. The previous Pete seemed so morose, yet hopeful, while 2017’s Pete is definitely coming from a place of imagination and wonder.
Fegley, age 12, is no stranger to the spotlight, of course. Fans of Boardwalk Empire, Person of Interest, and This Is Where I Leave You are already a little familiar with the child actor. Director David Lowery said of Fegley, “He just had that something. I can’t describe it, but there was something so real about him.”
6. Breathtaking New Zealand Footage
The movie was filmed in New Zealand and gives audiences views all over the area: Queenstown, Marlborough Sounds, Wellington. It makes the experience of living in the wild much more magical and scary than, say, the woods outside a small town. Lowery says he wanted to film there because it would make the film special. New Zealand feels timeless as the movie does. He also says nature is a big part of the film. “I knew we needed something special for the story and for the characters. And I had a sneaking suspicion that we’d find that in New Zealand and sure enough, we did.”
The same green screen behind Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was used to produce Pete’s Dragon. That said, it was not used as often as one might think. Karl Urban, who stars in the film, says, “It was shot by and large using natural light with old-school lenses, though obviously we have the benefit of great, modern CGI effects to help bring to life this beautiful creator of Elliott.”
5. Promoting Conservation
The environmental focus in the film also stems from Disney’s new commitment to nature. The company is including its Conservation Fund as part of the marketing behind the film. The Disney Conservation Fund has been around since 1995 when the company established the fund on Earth Day of that year. Since then, it has been used to promote both conserving environmental resources and helping children connect with nature. The Disney Conservation Fund partners with various environmental organizations to promote causes and assist with the conservation and recovery of endangered species. The fund’s current project, called “Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time,” is aimed at preserving 10 specific species. The organization also works on waste reduction, curbing emissions and other projects to promote greener living.
Given that Redford, a known Sierra Club member and environmental activist is on board, their mission has an even greater level of credibility in terms of Pete’s Dragon. The film is being used as a tool to encourage children to explore and appreciate nature.
4. The Magic is Real
While the green screen footage is CGI effects, most of Pete’s Dragon was physically filmed. The crew drove two hours daily to immerse themselves within the woods for the most realistic footage possible. Even though the film was created in New Zealand, it is set in the Pacific Northwest. Clayton Tikao, the film’s location manager, said, “My primary objective was to find forest locations that matched as closely as possible to the forests located in the Pacific Northwest of America.” The wild pine forests of the North Island were selected as Pete and Elliot’s home, and the majority of the film takes place right in the forest to create as realistic of a film as possible.
Part of the magic stems from Lowery’s love of mystery. “I’m really interested in the temporal quality of films. I love movies where you can’t quite put your finger on when they take place and movies that mess with time.” He went on to say that he enjoyed not having to include cellular phones in the movie, which absolutely contributed to its magical effect.
3. For Nostalgia’s Sake
People who loved the original Pete’s Dragon may fall in love with the story all over again. Bryce Dallas Howard said that riding Elliot in the movie made her feel as if she were in The Neverending Story, and that being in it was especially exciting since she was a huge fan of the original movie. She says that the film also brought back nostalgia from her own childhood.
Part of the reason why audiences will experience a wave of nostalgia while seeing the movie, however, is that it is set in the early 1980s. There are no video games, cell phones, or other electronic devices. There are quiet family scenes featuring people bonding over books and cozy moments together, which is what the average modern family greatly misses today. The style of the film also has a nostalgic element, as it takes a break from the action-packed blockbusters that are marketed to families, replacing them with the familiar slow build of a gentle family tale.
2. The Crypt Keeper is Elliot’s Voice
John Kassir is indeed a part of this movie. Kassir, the beloved Crypt Keeper from the Tales From the Crypt who so many fans know and love, is voicing Elliot the dragon in the movie. Although it is not a huge role in terms of lines, it does lend to both the nostalgia of the film as well as the fun pieces of trivia about it. Elliot may not be a bone-chilling dragon in any sense, but not all of Kassir’s work is as scary as one might think.
Fans of Kassir’s creep-tastic work may not know that he has already been working for Disney for years. Prior to Pete’s Dragon, Kassir voiced Meeko the raccoon from Pocahontas, various characters in Zootopia and Monsters University, and did several voices in The Princess and the Frog. Kassir has also provided voice work for Minions, Jack the Giant Slayer, The Smurfs and The Secret Life of Pets, making him one of the most underrated voices among modern hit family movies.
1. Timeless Themes
There is a reason why critics are hailing the new film as a timeless classic, and it is not just Lowery’s insistence on a muddy timeline. Family is a key theme in the film, as is loyalty. People who have seen the movie report coming to tears, both of the joy and sorrow varieties, several times after witnessing especially emotional scenes in the film.
The theme extends beyond the modern day family movie, which is usually designed to wow audiences with action scenes or get them belly laughing. It focuses on relationships between characters, people coming together to solve problems and grow with one another, which makes it the kind of movie that will stand the test of time. The little changes in each character add up, creating a cohesive, moving story for the ages.
People of all walks of life should expect to walk away from the theater feeling good about having seen Pete’s Dragon, now out in theaters.