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Peter T Chattaway

Pete's Dragon

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After Gritty Sundance Debut On ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’, David Lowery To Reinvent ‘Pete’s Dragon’ For Disney

EXCLUSIVE: I didn’t see this one coming. After directing one of the most talked-about films at Sundance Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, David Lowery has hired on with writing partner Toby Halbrooks to script Pete’s Dragon for Disney and producer Jim Whitaker. I’m told they will reinvent the core story of a venerable Disney family film. It will not be a musical and at this point Lowery is just engaged as writer. The original 1977 Pete’s Dragon mixed an animated fire-breather with a live-action cast of actors that included Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Helen Reddy and Jim Dale, with Sean Marshall playing the orphan boy who comes to a town with his magical dragon, his abusive adoptive parents in hot dispute. . . .

Deadline.com, March 19

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They're gonna go CG this time, right? Is it just me, or will that seem somehow not-quite-as-special as the hand-drawn dragon in the original film?

(To what extent, I wonder, did the dragon's invisibility "work" as a concept because we all knew he was really invisible -- i.e. there was nothing to see there -- when the actors and filmmakers were actually *shooting* the film? And to what extent did it "work" because the dragon was hand-drawn and thus still somewhat "imaginary", whereas presumably any CG dragon they invent now would be as photorealistic as possible?)

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One of the first two or three movies I saw in a theater. I remember being absolutely terrified of the image of the dragon with the tarp thrown over him, being tied down. That image has stayed with me so vividly that it inspired a scene I wrote into Raven's Ladder.

Edited by Overstreet

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What? What? I was digging through my gmail the other day and discovered it's been almost eight years since I got my first email from an aspiring young filmmaker in Texas who'd found my blog and wanted to talk about Eyes Wide Shut. Now he has a film coming out from IFC and is about to remake one of my childhood favorites! I've seen everything David's made except for Ain't Them Bodies Saints, and I think he's a brilliant choice for Pete's Dragon. Several of his early short films use stop-motion animation, and his storytelling is always mythical and filtered through a child-like subjectivity. He's got a bit of Malick in him, a bit of Terry Gilliam, and a bit of Joe Dante. I can imagine this landing somewhere on the Time Bandits side of the kids movie spectrum.

Edited by Darren H

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Wow. This is one of the most intriguing in-development stories going.

 

Am I the only one for whom The Wrap's sight is all messed up? It's not loading right in any of my browsers.

Edited by Overstreet

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Disney Finds Its Pete For ‘Pete’s Dragon’ Remake (EXCLUSIVE)

Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence are set to star in Disney’s remake of “Pete’s Dragon.”

David Lowery is set to direct from a script he wrote with Toby Halbrooks.

The story is a reinvention of the 1977 film that revolves around Pete and his best friend Elliot, who happens to be dragon. The first pic was a musical, but sources say this will be a straight narrative.

The pic will be live-action with CGI used to bring the dragon to life. . . .

Laurence will be a newly created character named Natalie, another of Pete’s friends. She received a Tony for her work in Broadway’s “Matilda.”

This news only adds to the good month Fegley is having. He can currently be seen as young Eli Thompson on the final season of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and also portrays the younger version of Jason Bateman’s character in Warner Bros. “This is Where I Leave You.” . . .

Variety, September 19

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Interesting how all these indie filmmakers go direct to emulating Spielberg when they get tapped to make big Hollywood films

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Tyler wrote:
: Was Pete a wild child in the first one? 

He was an orphanage escapee or something like that, wasn't he?

Seems to me there's a significant difference between a film that puts a cartoon character in a live-action situation (as was the case with the original film) and a film that offers us another photorealistic CGI being. Can't quite put my finger on *what* that difference is, or how to *articulate* it, but it's there...

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8 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Tyler wrote:
: Was Pete a wild child in the first one? 

He was an orphanage escapee or something like that, wasn't he?

Seems to me there's a significant difference between a film that puts a cartoon character in a live-action situation (as was the case with the original film) and a film that offers us another photorealistic CGI being. Can't quite put my finger on *what* that difference is, or how to *articulate* it, but it's there...

Hmm, looking at the trailer, it doesn't quite seem like photorealistic. We don't get a good look, but the dragon looks a little bit "cartoony" to my eyes.

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So it was occurring to me that this is Bryce Dallas Howard's second film in a row where her character works someplace where there's a forest in which lurks a giant, reptilian creature with stealth-mode powers. 

So I joked about this on Twitter … and someone pointed out that that description almost fit The Village! So that's three films in which it seems there is an elusive, unseeable monster lurking in the forest about Howard. 

Then someone else noted another close match, Lady in the Water. I don't recall a forest, but there is a monster with camouflage powers lurking around Howard. So, well, that's four movies where it seems there's some imperceptible monster lurking about Howard. 

Edited by SDG

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And then someone else noted the elusive, unseeable monster lurking behind her in Manderlay: Lars Von Trier.

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Well if you found yourself nostalgic for 80s/90s family film fare a la ET or Free Willy, then you'll love Pete's Dragon. Almost all the same tropes are there, but it's a fun film in and of itself. Great moments of pure 'play', and wonder in nature, with a fun folk rock soundtrack. Also the film is a lot less serious than the trailers make it seem.

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Along with Cinderella and The Jungle Book, Disney is now three for three re. well-done live-action reworkings of films from their catalogue. (Of course the original Pete's Dragon was a live-action / animation hybrid, and so is this one, after a fashion, but this kind of computer-rendering integrated into live action really deserves to be in a different category from animation.)

Of course I couldn't resist working my joke about that running theme in Bryce Dallas Howard's work into my review

Quote

Howard was last seen in Jurassic World, another movie featuring a giant reptilian creature with stealth-mode powers hiding in the forest. The Village, too, was about an elusive, unseeable monster in the woods; in Lady in the Water, a monster with camouflage powers can actually hide on the lawn. Howard’s next film, Gold, is set in the jungles of Borneo. Even if the plot doesn’t posit an invisible monster lurking about, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Another movie connection of sorts I noticed: An important turning point early in this film involves Pete, living wild in the forest with Elliot, spotting another person so interesting — a girl his own age — that he allows himself to be lured out of hiding, at least to an extent, leading to his reintroduction to human society. Which I couldn't help thinking was a lot like the scene that wasn't there in the last Disney remake of a 1970s animation: 

Quote

It’s almost like the makers of Pete’s Dragon are making up for the absence of this device at the end of Favreau’s The Jungle Book.

 

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Hey this was really good.  We took the boys there as a before-school-starts treat.  They'd wanted to see the Pets movie instead, but I vetoed this selection.  Really glad that we did.  Was surprised to see my ten year old was misty-eyed--didn't know that he'd inherited the waterworks genes from his dad!

(That's two out of the last three films I've seen, this, MR. HOLMES, and ST. VINCENT that made me cry!  I need an action film to combat these feelings!)

Just a delightful movie all around, with really solid performances by the kids and the CGI animators.  There were a few leaps of logic that raised my suspension of disbelief hackles, but I suspect I'm just being nitpicky.  I'm really glad that Disney & Lowery pulled this one off, and I loved the gentle exploration of faith in the "magic".  Some easily explored spiritual themes there.

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Really dug this as well, and was not surprised to see some references to this film and STRANGER THINGS as both using a non-modern setting and fairly direct narrative throughline to tell a story that seems fresh by being really familiar.  Sure, it's easy to chalk it up to what the respective directors grew up with, periodwise, but there is something significant about the fact that neither the Duffers nor D. Lowery chose to tell their stories in contemporary settings.  It's more relevant in PETE'S DRAGON, of course, because that film isn't really tied to specific 80s genre conventions, so why not tell it in present-day?  I think in part the reason is that the setting isn't a distraction for kids, and it's certainly evocative for the parents who brought them.  There's certainly something non-contemporary about a "family film" where the parents die, pretty much on-screen, through sudden tragedy.  And yet I remember seeing films that did things like that as a kid; one in particular made an impression where Ricky Schroeder's camper went over a gorge.  Funny how those things recede but never leave.

 

But anyway--a weird connection occurred to me after the road trip adventure was ended in that rolling-camera-car-crash shot.  I though, hey I've seen that before-- a film essentially opening with a budding domestic tranquility interrupted by a rolling car-crash-shot!  Has anybody thought about the way in which this film, by using the same shot as THE BABADOOK, sorta invites an interesting back-and-forth between the films, in which both feature these manifestations that show up when the grief does, and while Elliot is not menacing to Pete, there's a similar sort of push-pull symbiosis to Pete and the BABADOOK mom recovering their well-being and, more to the point, their need for community.  Plus, in both stories, we're assured that the manifestations exist in the truest sense, to the point that they don't disappear from sight or existence when no longer needed, but simply recede, as managed from a healthy point of view.

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2 hours ago, Russ said:

It's more relevant in PETE'S DRAGON, of course, because that film isn't really tied to specific 80s genre conventions, so why not tell it in present-day?  

I remember thinking, when the dragon was hauled in to the mill, "Why isn't everyone taking pictures? Ohhhhhhhhhh." A present-day version of the story would have added a new layer of complexity to the story's take on seeing.

Edited by Overstreet

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That's such a great point, Jeff.  I resisted just saying what I was thinking-- that if you set it in the present day you'd have to work hard to avoid allowing the smartphone/social media/internet omnipresence angles to crowd out the straightforward story-- because it seems like a crutch to just say that our present day realities work against representational art that isn't swallowed by phones and internet.  And yet it does seem like that!  I'm curious to what degree David got the remake as an assignment to remake the film to occur around the time the original film was released or whether that was a touch he and his co-writer wisely added.

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The film also really had a nostalgia factor, so it makes sense that it was placed in an earlier time.  Cell phones would have taken away from that factor for me.  

As it was, the film really brought back memories of sitting in front of Disney playing on TV, on a Sunday night.  It had the magic, adventure, emotions and general gentle touch that I remember from Disney past.  

It was a film that harkened back to a different era in several ways, and had elements of storytelling which I think are missing in a lot of present day films.  Which fits in with the question on another thread.  Is the film medium in a slump?  

 

One of the things I really liked was the intentionality of how sensitively the film dealt with some of its heavier themes.  It was tragic enough to bring out the emotions, but not so much so that it would have been too heavy for children.  There were a few places where it could have gone a little darker than it did and I found myself thinking "please don't go there".  And it didn't.  Yet it never felt that it was too light or avoiding certain things.  The way it handled it's subject matter was really well balanced.

Edited by Attica

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I'm curious to what degree David got the remake as an assignment to remake the film to occur around the time the original film was released or whether that was a touch he and his co-writer wisely added.

James M. Johnston, who produced most of David's pre-Disney films, came to Knoxville last year for a screening of his latest short and Listen Up Phillip at The Public Cinema. He told me that Disney basically said, "Here are a bunch of properties that we own. Pitch us an idea." Lowery has a good interview in the new issue of Filmmaker that includes this:

“Disney is interested in making a new version of Pete’s Dragon. It has nothing to do with the original other than the title.” I thought, “That could be cool. You could make a cool film about a kid with a dragon that is its own thing, using the title as a means to get it made.” I don’t love remake culture, as it were, but I do think there are opportunities to do cool things if you find the right property, where the original’s not so beloved that you can’t just completely do something different. A week later, Toby Halbrooks and I got on the phone with the producers of the film, Jim Whitaker and Adam Borba. [We] talked about our ideas for it: what we would do if we had the opportunity to write it, what kind of story we would want to tell, and what the tone would be. They were very interested in the tone; they didn’t care so much about the plot points.

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I haven't the slightest idea why I felt so moved by this film. Perhaps someone could explain that to me. Otherwise, I am just going to assume its magic.

But if there is a thread in Lowery's work, it has something to do with the way he described Ain't Them Bodies as an attempt to make a folk song. St. Nick and Pete's Dragon make this far more obvious, but he seems gripped by childhood as the incubator for the narratives we use later in life to survive. Or maybe it goes the other way, and these films are about how adulthood involves the same storytelling we employed to survive childhood, but it is all buried more deeply and covered over by our loves, desires, and decisions. At any rate, these films are all tests of a particular coping narrative. Sometimes they pan out, sometimes they don't.

The moving feature of Pete's Dragon is that this narrative self-description has a magical, ineffable quality to it. It does not make us bullet proof, as we see in Ain't Them Bodies, but it has the power to make us whole enough to accept the love of family. If we craft narratives or myths around ourselves as a measure of self protection, these illusions will fail us. If these stories preserve something essential about ourselves until we find our family, our home, then they have served their merciful and gracious purpose. Shalom is a word that comes to mind when I think of Pete's Dragon. Each movement of Pete's Dragon is very simply and eloquently marked by this sense of progress toward home. It is the film Where The Wild Things Are wanted to be, but Lowery seems to have a better handle on this feature of childhood.

I keep thinking about this question: What is David Lowery doing?

He is up to something so pure and good.

That last shot of Elliot bouncing about the mountain like a puppy, with Pete running alongside, is just a beautifully conceived convergence of cinema and CGI.

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I'm not sure I'd say "It is the film Where The Wild Things Are wanted to be," as the films are up to very different things. But they're similarly successful at what they set out to do. Wild Things feels to me like the way in which a child works out righteous anger imaginatively on a journey to accepting what is; and the characters role play in a sort of dream-logic working out of conversations he has heard at home but not understood. Pete's Dragon feels like the way in which a child grieves, finding consolation in the sense of a benevolent Presence — and thus feels like it's much more about "childlike faith" and its rewards into adulthood; and this becomes a mysterious way of finding hope and the freedom to grow up into real relationships. If anything, I think Pete's Dragon is the weaker of the two because the deforestation story feels like a tacked on excuse for villainy (although a much better one than the snake oil salesman of the original), a storyline that aligns with the central story of the boy and his dog only insofar as it models an exploitative relationship toward mystery, a foil for the boy's embrace of it.

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