David Lowery and Bryce Dallas Howard Shed Light on ‘Pete’s Dragon’

That disappearing dragon just became a lot more visible.

With the recent release of the second trailer, the world finally received some fleeting but anticipation-building glimpses of the massive, flying creature at the center of Disney’s remake of “Pete’s Dragon” – including Elliott's uniquely furry, rather than scaly, green hide. Now director and co-writer David Lowery and star Bryce Dallas Howard are offering a little more insight into the new interpretation.

Joining journalists at Hollywood’s historic El Capitan Theater, the two previewed the trailer and a series of sequences that demonstrated both the similarities to and departures from the 1977 original. During a Q&A, they shared their thoughts on the approach they’ve taken nearly four decades later.

On building the movie around a child protagonist and for a young audience:

David Lowery: My favorite year was 7 years old – and I’ve not advanced in maturity since then, so that’ll explain a lot about this movie when you see it. I felt all the same feelings I feel as an adult, I just didn’t have a way to contextualize them. I think that’s what you gain with maturity is a way of contextualize those feelings. So obviously, this movie is not a psychological study of childhood, this is a big adventure film. But I wanted to be respectful of children and their feelings, and to be accurate to my memory of what it was like.

Also accurate to my memory of what I wanted to do: I would build these tree forts in my backyard, with rope swings. In my memory, they’re gigantic and awesome. In reality they’re not that great; as a 7-year-old, they’re the best thing ever! I wanted to kind of present that version: like, Pete’s got a treehouse, I wanted to present that version, the version I saw in my mind’s eye. But at the same time, also, when the characters are hurting or when they’re feeling feelings, be really true to my memory.

I don’t have kids of my own, but I remember being a kid very clearly. I’m the oldest of nine kids, so I’ve been around them all my life. I wanted to be true to that, and there is a great legacy of films about children, whether they are films like “E.T.,” or --

Bryce Dallas Howard: “The NeverEnding Story.”

Lowery: “The NeverEnding Story,” “The Black Stallion.” Or other films – I mean, “Ponette,” the French film about the girl who lost her parents, is really important to me. “The Red Balloon” was a wonderful story about capturing imagination and childhood in a very specific way. I can list off all of the foreign films that I love. I think it’s important to think of those movies because … I love things that let kids see the emotional side of themselves, and I really was hoping to touch on that a little bit.

Howard: I think that just as a parent, the reason why I love my children to watch films with children in them is exactly everything that you said, because it empowers them, I think. It empowers children to have an understanding … it contextualizes their own story, and their own belief system, and their own emotional value, I think. They learn to value their families.

Also, I remember I was developing a few projects, and I saw “Up,” and I made a decision. I was, like, every movie I do is starting with the character as a child because it’s so … when you see a child when we’re watching movies, or experiencing theater, or entertainment, or art in any form, we’re leaning toward the truth. We want to see the truth. We know what feels truthful, and we know what doesn’t feel truthful because we’re human beings and that’s how we’re designed.

And I think when you see a child in real life and they call you some vicious name, you believe it more, because a child speaks the truth. So being in a film where the protagonist is a child, it just means everything around it needs to be all the more honest, all the more real, and it’s all the more important because you know that other children are going to watch it, and it’s going to have an impact, a more significant impact, potentially, than the adults who are watching.

On the enthusiasm – and apprehension – of Howard’s children regarding her big, green co-star:

Howard: There was a little bit of trepidation as to whether or not it was a scary dragon or a friendly dragon. Seeing this next trailer I think will be the final piece of evidence to my kids to prove that it is indeed a friendly dragon. But they’re so excited: I used the trailer coming out as, like, bait. I’m like, “In two weeks the trailer’s coming out and you’ll be allowed to see it – now go to bed.” That’s how excited they are. Yeah, I can’t wait to watch it with them.

On the use of music, when the original was a musical and the new version isn’t:

Lowery: We do have a song in the movie – you’ll find out how it plays in the plot when you see it. But I really wanted to sort of avoid the winks and the nods. Not because the original’s not great, but because I wanted this to really exist in its own realm.

The best thing is for audiences who love the original to see this and say, “This is a great new film about a boy named Pete and Elliott.” And if kids have not seen the original, this’ll be the first time they’ve seen it, and there won’t be that moment where all the adults go, “Oh yeah …” and the kids are going, “What are you talking about? I don’t get it.”

So I kind of avoided that. We talked about it. We talked about having references. But ultimately we felt like it was the purer tactic. I’ve seen a lot of remakes that do that, and that always takes me out of the movie because it’s a little wink. So there is some music, but the music in this movie I’m really proud of. I can’t wait to talk more about that in the future. There’s a lot of really exciting things going on with the music in this film.

On having Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Redford on set:

Lowery: I was working on something else with him, another project. Then at one point, when we were on a script meeting on that, I was like, “By the way, I’ve got this other thing I’m working on ...” So that’s how that came to be. We kind of were able to get “Pete’s Dragon” in front of him because I was already sitting in a room with him. It was very convenient. I was so glad he took this part because it brought a lot of gravitas to the role in a really wonderful way.

In terms of whether it was daunting to work with him … I didn’t think I was daunted at all. But then after his first day on set, I had to go to dailies that day with my production designer Jade and she followed me afterwards. She’s like, “You gave him a direction and you very quickly followed up with, ‘If that’s OK with you.’” And then he’d be like, “Yeah, sure, whatever you want.” There was no sense of like pretension on his part. It was all like, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.” But apparently I was a little bit nervous!

Howard: He’s awesome. He is disarmingly relaxed and cool and game for things. I think everyone, because before he came all of us were like, “Robert Redford’s going to be here!” We did a large part of the shoot in advance of it, and then he came, and then basically 24 hours later everyone was like, “Ah, he’s just part of our crew.” He’s really fun and cool to work with.

On whether this film features fire-breathing:

Lowery: Yes. That’s it. That’s all I’m going to say. Yes.

Howard: I’m a fire-breather.

“Pete’s Dragon” opens Aug. 12 nationwide.

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