Why Pete's Dragon's Director Didn't Rewatch The Original Before Making His Own

Hollywood is constantly on a cycle of producing new remakes and sequels, and when a filmmaker is brought aboard to helm these projects, the assumption at large is that they go back and revisit the original to help inform their vision for the update. In the case of David Lowery, however, this wasn't the case. When the filmmaker got the job to direct the new, upcoming take on Pete's Dragon, he actually made a point of not rewatching the classic from 1977 -- basically because he knew that the movie he wanted to make wasn't going to be a straight remake.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with David Lowery earlier this month after a special presentation for the new Pete's Dragon in Los Angeles, and one of the most interesting things we touched on in our conversation was the fact that the filmmaker decided against rewatching the Don Chaffey-directed musical from 1977. Noting that the new movie really only has loose ties to the original, I asked Lowery what his relationship to it was in the making of his film, and he explained that it was his decision to really not pay it any attention. Said the director,

I'll start things off by saying I haven't gone back to look at the original. I watched it when I was six multiple times and have not seen it since then... Disney said they did not want to make the original. They sort of wanted us to just step away as much as we felt comfortable, and so we're like, 'Great, we'll do that.' I don't love seeing remakes that like are slavish to the original or even have nods to the original, because I want to have a new experience. I'm not opposed to remakes one bit, but if they're just rehashing something, I'm like what's the point?

Watching the newly released trailer for David Lowery's Pete's Dragon compared to the original movie, it's pretty easy to see where the two features deviate. The 1977 version had Pete as a runaway orphan, who joins his dragon Elliott in trying to escape a horrible life of slave labor. He comes across a small town called Passamaquoddy and is taken in by a lighthouse keeper and her father, but must still contest with his terrible adoptive family and a doctor who wishes to harvest Elliott's organs. This is almost all different in Lowery's movie, where Pete isn't running away from an adoptive family -- he's been alone with Elliott in the woods for months -- and he winds up being taken in by a forest ranger and her dad. You can watch the preview for the new take below:

Discussing the making of Pete's Dragon further, David Lowery also noted that he actually enjoyed the freedom that came with not having to watch the 1977 film -- partially because it represented in a strange way the certain lack of pressure that existed putting together the remake. While the filmmaker certainly recognizes that there is a good amount of love for the original movie, it's also not quite held in the same regard as some other Disney classics of that era:

This felt great because it's beloved to a certain degree, but it's not one of the crown jewels of Disney, so there's not a ton of expectations attached to it. It's not precious and it is a sort of weird movie. And that, I mean, I remember it being very ramshackle and it had a feeling of another movie I loved from that age, that I have re-watched many times, [Robert Altman's] Popeye. My memory of it is sort of similar to that. You've got that weird seaside village. Everything is kind of dirty, and it's really long with long songs.

If you care to revisit the original Pete's Dragon yourself, as the 1977 movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as in digital formats. If you're going to wait for David Lowery's version of the family adventure, however, the good news is that the delay won't be long, as the new film will be in theaters on August 12th. In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned for more from our interview with David Lowery, as well as Pete's Dragon star Bryce Dallas Howard!

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.