Pete’s Dragon is the remake of the 1977 musical. The movie is about an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliott. Together they live in the woods of the Pacific Northwest until they are separated after Pete is found by a forest ranger. The two must find a way to get back to each other even if that means revealing to the world that Elliott is a dragon. Despite sharing the same name, the two films are only alike in that aspect. The characters and storyline have been updated to better appeal to today’s audiences.
In this week’s edition of Reboot Camp, we’re doing a side-by-side comparison of the 1977 and 2016 versions of Pete’s Dragon to see if the remake can hold a candle to the original.
Pete is the main character of Pete’s Dragon and has been played by two different actors. In 1977, Sean Marshall’s Pete is an orphan who was sold for $50 dollars to the Gorgans. He is primarily used for child labor since his so-called family is too lazy to take care of the farm themselves. In 2016, Oakes Fegley’s Pete is the sole survivor of a car crash. Alone in the woods, Pete makes an unlikely friend and together they make their home deep within the forest. While both are talented child actors, I enjoyed Oakes Fegley’s Pete more so than Marshall’s. His performance made me believe that he would do anything for his dragon friend.
Elliott has appeared on screen as a 2D animated cartoon and as a CGI character. In 1977, Elliott is a mischievous dragon who invisibly coexists among humans. In 2016, Elliott is a recluse and his only human interaction is with Pete. Both characters antics resemble that of overly playful dogs and each communicates only through animalistic grunts. This may come as a surprise, but I prefer 2D Elliott to CGI Elliott. It still astounds me how Disney was able to incorporate a cartoon character into a live-action movie.
Grace and Nora both act as surrogate mothers to Pete. In 1977 Helen Reddy is Nora, the daughter of the town lighthouse keeper. She offers shelter to Pete and accepts that Elliott is real but only as Pete’s imaginary friend. In 2016 Bryce Dallas Howard is Grace, a forest ranger who is determined to understand how Pete survived so long by himself out in the wilderness. She refuses to believe in dragons, rationalizing that if they existed she would’ve encountered one by now. Honestly, I don’t like either of these characters. Why can’t Pete and Elliott just live in harmony on their own? But if I had to choose, it’d be Grace. She trusted and believed Pete enough to let him introduce her to Elliott, despite having doubts about his existence.
Lampie and Mr. Meacham are the only ones who believe Pete when he says that Elliott is real and is a dragon. In 1977, Mickey Rooney is Lampie, the father of Nora and the lighthouse keeper. He actually met Elliott once outside a tavern and ran away in fear. In 2016, Robert Redford is Mr. Meacham, Grace’s father and dragon fanatic. He met Elliott when he was out hunting in the forest and has since been obsessed with learning everything about the mythical creature. Mickey Rooney and Robert Redford—it’s really hard to pick between the two since they are both great actors. Character wise, I’d have to pick Mr. Meacham because he still has his childlike sense of wonder.
What is a movie without a villain? Gavin and Dr. Terminus both want to capture Elliott and profit off of his existence. In 1977, Jim Dale is Dr. Terminus, a medicine showman who tries to capture Elliott after Pete refuses to sell out his friend. In 2016, Karl Urban is Gavin, a lumberjack who manages to sedate Elliott and take him captive. Gavin is the better villain hands down. When he realizes that capturing a dragon isn’t worth losing his family over, he backs off.
While I missed the impromptu musical numbers from the original, the rebooted Pete’s Dragon definitely made an impression. They didn’t try to remake the original but rather put their own spin on a classic story. Elliott obviously steals the show because who doesn’t like a cute, cuddly dragon? It’s also fun to watch Robert Redford fangirl over finally being able to prove that dragons do exist. I will caution parents that there are some tearjerker moments, so don’t forget to bring some tissues. Your kids (and maybe even you) might need them.