These Movies Helped Inspire The Pete's Dragon Remake

This week, fans were transported into the world of Pete's Dragon, as the latest trailer for director David Lowery's upcoming Disney remake arrived online. The movie looks like a very different kind of film -- as the director purposefully didn't watch the original musical from 1977 while making it -- but it did give off the atmosphere of some of the best family entertainment we've seen in the last few decades. This can partially be explained by the various classic features that helped inspire Pete's Dragon's development.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with director David Lowery and actress Bryce Dallas Howard during a Pete's Dragon early press day in Los Angeles, and one thing discussed in both interviews were the movies that helped inspire both the look and feel of the new film. Some of the titles mentioned were obvious, and others the complete opposite. Read on to find out what they said!

My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away

Director Hayao Miyazaki never really dipped into the world of live-action during his career, instead using his gifts to sculpt some of the greatest animated works of all time, but David Lowery was still able to learn from these features and apply feelings and ideas in the making of Pete's Dragon. Two particular titles from the Japanese genius that stood out included the brilliant My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away - both of which Lowery said were big in working with Bryce Dallas Howard. Said Lowery.

I watched My Neighbor Totoro. I watched Spirited Away. I watched those movies because I feel they capture something about childhood imagination that is unique... So we would look at that in creating the feel of the movie and with the cast, like with Bryce, definitely the Miyazaki stuff was a big touchstone in terms of just the type of movie it was going to be - especially Totoro, in the gentleness. This movie is incredibly gentle and that was a touchstone for that.

"Gentle" is definitely a word I think about when I look at how fuzzy and cute Elliott is in Pete's Dragon, and if the movie can even be half as sweet as My Neighbor Totoro, it will be a smashing success.

The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion

While all of the movies on this list had a hand in changing exactly what the new Pete's Dragon would turn out to be, director Carroll Ballard's 1979 adaptation of The Black Stallion may be the most important. Going into the project, it was the movie that David Lowery was thinking about the most -- though after rewatching it, began to understand that part of his job would be creating a much different cinematic experience than most young audiences are used to these days. Lowery explained,

I got in saying this movie is going to be just like Black Stallion, and I went back and re-watched it, and said, 'It can't be!' If I ever have kids, I will show them that movie, and I'm sure they'll love it as much as I did, but it is not the parlance of modern children's cinema, and so I wanted to blend. I wanted to have a throwback. I wanted this film to feel old-fashioned... and I love doing that, but it can't be as leisurely as something like Black Stallion was.

According to David Lowery, it's really the more methodical elements of Pete's Dragon that get the most effect from The Black Stallion - particularly an extended sequence towards the beginning of the film when the titular orphan is just running around the woods silently with his magical pal.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

If it isn't already clear at this point, the work of Hayao Miyazaki was definitely influential on the making of Pete's Dragon, but that's actually also the case for movies about Hayao Miyazaki. After talking with David Lowery about the Japanese filmmaker, Bryce Dallas Howard turned him on to The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness - the 2013 documentary about Miyazaki. Said Howard,

We actually watched this documentary, because he mentioned Miyazaki. I watched this documentary, this wonderful film about Miyazaki and emailed him before we started and I was like, 'You have to see this documentary,' and so then we were, like equally obsessing about him at the same time, and using just a lot of those references.

Given the subject matter of Pete's Dragon, the tone, vision and atmosphere of Hayao Miyazaki's movies certainly make sense as a reference point, and hopefully we'll see a good amount of it reflected in the finished work.

The Witch

The Witch

The horror film The Witch from director Robert Eggers may have only been released in theaters a few months ago, but thanks to the fact that David Lowery was able to get an early look at the movie, it wound up having an influence on Pete's Dragon. You might struggle to think what kind of inspiration could be taken from a dark horror movie, but what Lowery really appreciated as the particular geographical photography. Said Lowery,

I watch so many movies [laughter]. I watched The Witch right before we began production and I was like, 'That's how you shoot the woods. That's how you shoot the woods!'

As seen in the trailer for Pete's Dragon, the movie doesn't create the same kind of serious dread as The Witch, but the cinematography certainly does make the forested areas look stunning and beautiful.

You'll be able to see how all of these movies factor into Pete's Dragon when the movie arrives in theaters on August 12th!

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.