Pete’s Dragon is the latest in a long and continuing line of Disney classics to be reimagined for a modern day audience. So far, Disney has had mixed success with this line of filmmaking; while Cinderella and Maleficent were generally well received, Alice in Wonderland did not fare well with critics despite its box office success, while its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass has not performed well at all. However, it seems as though Disney is getting into its stride; its live-action Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau, has become a big hit for the company, and excitement is also high for next year’s Beauty and the Beast release. Will Pete’s Dragon be able to match the success the Jungle Book has enjoyed?
The first teaser for Pete’s Dragon promised a film very different in tone and pace from the 1977 classic. That movie blended live action with hand drawn animation to tell the story of Pete and his dragon, Elliott, set in the 1900s in a small village. The result was a clumsy looking, yet sweetly charming movie that moved along gently with plenty of musical numbers packed in. The newest version changes both the location (to the Pacific Northwest), and the time setting (to present day). Ahead of the movie’s release this summer, a second trailer has dropped online (which can be viewed above) as has the new poster for the film, as can be seen below.
Pete’s Dragon stars newcomer Oakes Fegley as the titular Pete, a boy who has seemingly survived alone in the forest for six years. Robert Redford takes on the role of Mr Meacham, a woodcarver who likes to tell local children tales of the dragon who lives in the forest. His daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) works as the forest ranger, and dismisses her dad’s stories as nothing more than fantasy, until she meets Pete, who claims he lives happily in the forest with Elliott. So unfolds the rest of the movie, as Grace tries to discover the truth behind Pete’s existence.
This version of Pete’s Dragon is co-written by Toby Halbrooks and David Lowery, with the latter also directing. The reimagining is based on the original screenplay written by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field. Halbrooks and Lowery have worked together before, on indie movie Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and indeed, their filmmaking history lies within the indie/arthouse genre, so Pete’s Dragon marks a departure to the norm for them, as well as a bit of a risk for Disney.
The trailer is promising; setting the police and townsfolk against Elliott, with only Pete understanding the true nature of his dearest friend. The cinematography is great, as is the dramatic New Zealand scenery where the film was shot. In true Disney fashion, the storyline looks set to tug at the heartstrings, and Fegley gives an emotive performance just in the trailer alone. This trailer also gives us our first good look at Elliott, who doesn’t look quite as goofy as his 1977 predecessor, but he still has the same talent for making himself invisible, it seems.
In many ways, Pete’s Dragon has a similar tone to that of The Jungle Book; that is to say, the Disney ‘family’ films of old moved at a steady pace with little to no twists and turns. Both Jungle Book, and what we have seen of Pete’s Dragon thus far seem to suggest that Disney have realized that today’s kids want, need, and expect more from a movie, and certainly the Jungle Book was packed full of action that kept all of us, not just kids, glued to the screen.
The good thing about Disney bringing us such a different take on these classics, is that there still firmly remains a place for both the original and the newer versions of the films, because they can be viewed as two separate entities. Cinderella, Maleficent, Jungle Book and, from the looks of it, Pete’s Dragon, all appear to be totally different films in terms of style, tone, and pace, to their predecessors.
Pete’s Dragon will be released in U.S. theaters on August 12th, 2016.
Source: Walt Disney Studios
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