“Childlike wonder” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. Most positively (assuming it’s not being applied to an actual child) it means an adult has dropped the cynical, jaded outlook they may have and give into just being amazed at something. Of course it can be applied negatively as well, as opponents may deride someone for dropping their critical thinking or good sense and approaching a situation with zero objectivity. But more often than not it’s a good thing since it evokes a simpler time in our lives, one when we weren’t so analytical about everything but accepted the majesty of the world as it was.
Pete’s Dragon is a remake of the classic Disney movie that updates the story for the current generation. In this version Pete (Oakes Fegley) is an orphan who has been living in the woods for years. When he’s discovered by a park ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), he’s taken back to civilization, but not before he tells her he’s survived all this time thanks to a dragon who lives there named Elliot, one that matches the local legends kept alive by Meacham (Robert Redford), an old woodworker who makes trinkets for the kids in the area. The conflict in the story comes from Gavin (Karl Urban) who wants to clear the woods for logging. So Pete, Elliot and the rest have to not only help Pete find his place in the world but help save Elliot and the environment he’s called home.
The first poster shows Pete hiding behind a tree in a forest full of tall trees. In the background, looking like he’s trying to hide behind a tree himself, is the dragon, just obscured enough that the audience can’t get a good look at him. A motion poster version accompanied this that used the same image but with the dragon fading in slowly, as if materializing from Pete’s imagination.
The next poster has Pete relaxing in the crook of Elliot’s tale. It’s a simple image but again shows us that Elliot is more furry than he is in the original and that this is going to be about the friendship between the two of them. “Some sequels are too big to keep” reads the copy that’s just below the title treatment.
The teaser trailer is just that. We see a young go running through a massive forest. We see there are adults who have heard of him and are shocked he’s been surviving out there on his own for six years. There are a few shots of the boy being introduced into civilization, something that doesn’t appear to go great, before we’re back in the woods and get a small glimpse of the dragon
It’s good at setting up the premise of the story without showing too much. We see where the central conflict is going to come from, though I take issue with the decision to hide the dragon like they do. Is there really something to be gained by keeping him under wraps like this?
The first full trailer introduces us to Pete via him being discovered by a couple forest rangers who, along with the police, don’t know what to do with him and can’t believe he’s been out there for six years alone. But as he explains, he wasn’t alone: He had Elliot. Introducing Elliot to the people goes as well as you’d expect and we get some shots of Pete acclimating to society, which is a bit dicey, and we see that not everyone is thrilled with things. It appears the evil group here are a bunch of loggers, though that’s not stated outright.
It’s a big trailer that comes off a lot like the spot for Where The Wild Things Are from several years ago in how it’s designed to introduce you to a child’s sense of imagination and wonder. It’s going to hit you right in the feels, which is largely the point.
Online and Social
There’s not a whole lot going on over at the movie’s official website. Scroll down from the cropped key art that opens the site and the first thing you’ll see is the trailer that you can watch again if you’re so inclined.
That’s followed by an “Activity Packet” you can download and which contains suggestions on things to do like take a hike, coloring pages and more. “Videos” has the trailer, various clips and some short featurettes with various members of the cast talking about the story and the experience of filming the movie.
A decent story synopsis is below that, outlining some of the basic plot points. Finally there’s a gallery of nine images from the movie.
On social – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – there was plenty of the usual material, ranging from clips and trailers to countdown images to character sketches to promotional giveaways. There were plenty of shares and RTs of press and other video and stories as well from appearances the cast made on TV, on Disney’s own video feeds and elsewhere.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one began running in early July that played more or less like condensed versions of the trailers, showing Pete being discovered in the forest, which leads to the revealing of Elliot and then the conflict that drives the rest of the story.
Sponsored posts on Twitter and Facebook began running around the time of the second trailer, at least based on what I saw, that included that trailer and a prompt to buy tickets now. I’m sure there was plenty of other online advertising along with outdoor billboards and other signage as well.
Media and Publicity
The first good look at the dragon of the title came as part of Entertainment Weekly’s Summer Movie Preview and showed a fuzzy beast looking down at Pete in the forest.
Howard was interviewed about being part of a remake of a movie that meant so much to her and her and her family. Redford talked about what attracted him to a movie of this sort, which seemed to be far outside his usual safe zone. And director David Lowry talked plenty about taking on a remake like this and what it meant to him professionally as well as personally.
In addition to the press activity the cast made the talk show rounds to hit similar subjects.
First I need to admit that yes, the trailers, particularly the full spot, made me…well, it seemed to get a little dusty in the room is all I’m saying. It’s genetically designed to bring out the feels and it works well in that regard. The rest of the campaign tries to hit a similar note but never quite achieves the emotional reach of the trailer. TV spots come the closest, but they’re too concerned with cramming plenty of story into the short running time to really let the full impact of the story be felt.
What’s interesting to me is that there’s not much of an appeal to nostalgia going on here. This movie’s story seems to differ pretty significantly from that of the original and so I don’t think the studio is really playing up the ties between the two. Maybe the original isn’t as well known as some of other properties (which begs the question why make this a remake and not just an original story…oh right, because you can’t sell anything with an unknown title). Whatever the reason, this is being sold as more or less an original movie, not one that requires existing knowledge of what’s come before.