By now most filmgoers have probably started to get used to Disney remaking and/or re-envisioning stories from its animated film collection as modern live-action tentpoles – with two more of them (Cinderella and The Jungle Book) scheduled to arrive next year. The Mouse House is also revisiting its 1977 live-action/2D animation hybrid feature Pete’s Dragon, with David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) directing and co-writing the script with his writing partner, Toby Halbrooks.
THR is reporting Robert Redford has entered talks to play an important supporting role in the new Pete’s Dragon. The Hollywood icon has stepped up his workload of late, first by starring in the one-man indie show All is Lost in 2013 and then playing a key character in Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The Winter Soldier this past spring. He’s now working on the Dan Rather docudrama Truth, which is the directorial debut for screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, White House Down). Not bad for someone who turned 78 back in August this year.
Lowery’s version of Pete’s Dragon will star Oakes Fegley (who plays young Eli Thompson on Boardwalk Empire) as Pete, an orphaned boy who’s been raised by a dragon (named Elliot) residing in a forest. Tony award-winner Oona Laurence has also been cast as the young daughter of a mill owner; the latter is said to have a “greedy brother” who, by the sound of it, wants to exploit the aforementioned forest and make it readily available for logging. As for Redford, he’s up to play “a local who tells tales involving dragons that no one believes.”
It would appear that the Pete’s Dragon remake is going to modernize the setting of the original film, as the latter takes place sometime in the early 1900s. Moreover, Lowery’s movie looks to touch upon certain contemporary issues – like the sort of environmental concerns that are always good for getting a (heated) discussion going – though a fantasy genre lens, much as recent Disney releases Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent have before it. Given the box office returns for those flicks ($1 billion and $757 million worldwide), it’s hard to argue with that formula from a financial perspective.
Disney’s recent live-action remakes and/or re-imaginings have been (fairly) criticized for exploiting audience’s interests, more than bringing something new to the table, but Lowery’s involvement may help Pete’s Dragon to buck that trend. The filmmaker comes from a strong indie drama background, which is enough for now to suggest that he could deliver both a solid magical realism tale and a modern Disney tentpole with real heart and deeper meaning. (In that respect, it also bodes well that the project has managed to attract interest from someone of Redford’s stature.)
Pete’s Dragon is gearing up to begin production in New Zealand this fall; we’ll let you know when it gets an official release date.