Whatever you think of the original Pete's Dragon by Disney, forget that. David Lowery's new film is not that movie at all, as the first teaser trailer for the film should make abundantly clear.
While I know the original has its fans, it's always felt like five or six different films mashed into one to me. It's got some strong production design, and by the time they made the movie, Disney had gotten very good at mixing live-action and animation, and there are some impressive sequences as a result. It's one of those films that a lot of people remember fondly precisely because they haven't seen it since childhood, and in many ways, the script by Lowery and Toby Halbrooks feels like what you would write if you specifically hadn't watched it again but were describing it to someone based on how it made you feel as a child.
It's certainly a darker story this time around, and the first six pages of the script are beautiful, largely dialogue-free storytelling. Lowery's film Ain't Them Bodies Saints established his visual style, and I'm excited to see how he brings that to bear on a fantastic story like this one. This might be the most excited I've been for a match between filmmaker and material on what is ostensibly a “children's film” since Where The Wild Things Are.
At four years old, Pete is orphaned by a tragic accident and nearly killed while lost deep in the woods. He is saved by a dragon, and the description of what we can expect is very different from the sort of exaggerated and cartoony Elliot from the original film. This time, expect Elliot to be “enormous, 4 stories tall, with wings tucked back against his body and a spiny back with a great tail that looks like it could level the whole forest with a single swipe.” He also has a tendency to change color and blend into environments, with his natural colors being green and brown like the forest itself.
You won't see any of that in this first trailer, though. There's really only one quick shot of the dragon, and it's intentionally frustrating. What you do get an idea about is the overall story, though, which picks up six years after that opening, when Pete is discovered and brought to Millhaven, a small American town in the Pacific Northwest. There's a bit of Truffaut's The Wild Child in here, and there's a subplot about industrialization and the decimation of our natural resources, and all of it is there in service of a truly heartbreaking story about a little boy and his best friend.
I can't believe I'm genuinely excited for a remake of Pete's Dragon, but I am. And this trailer is a lovely indication that my excitement is not misplaced.
Pete's Dragon is in theaters August 12, 2016.