Most of us probably remember Elliot the dragon from Disney's original Pete's Dragon; big belly, bright green, a bit toothy and smiley with interesting pink spikes. Well, for parents who are hoping to take their kids to the movies this weekend for a shot-by-shot remake of the 1977 original — prepare to be surprised. But, like, really pleasantly surprised. Elliot and Pete might be back, but they've gotten a modern (and yet weirdly also traditional) makeover. Take the voice of Elliot in Pete's Dragon, for instance; it's not what fans remember from the big, goofy dragon of the old days.
In the original film, Elliot was voiced by American comedian Charlie Callas. Callas' version of Elliot sang and joked around and played in the forest with Pete, the only person who can see him (most of the time). This new version of Elliot, according to director David Lowery, will still hold some elements of the original. Lowery told Entertainment Weekly, “Certain things about the original design we loved: Big jaw, big snout, and a clumsy quality that we really wanted to not completely forget about." While Lowery wanted to make a dragon that was faithful to the feeling the original Elliot embodied, don't expect the neon green or hot pink. And, in a strange twist, the new Elliot isn't voiced by any actor.
From the get-go, the aesthetic was always to make everything feel as handmade as possible, including effects. To really have it feel like a blur between a very grounded realistic world and a world in which a big green dragon that can turn invisible can exist.
Lowery has created a soft, furry dragon that many kids might actually believe could exist in the forest... but he also created a dragon who manages to emote without uttering a single word. Like a certain lovable Wookie we might all know and love, Elliot's voice manages to convey sadness, playfulness, joy, and heartbreak with his trademark purr.
So how did animators manage to inject so much personality into Elliot's voice and movements? According to production designer Jade Healy, they watched hours of funny animal videos.
There’s one video of a giant panda tumbling in his cave, and we looked at that again and again as our Elliott — this big animal who just doesn’t know what to do with his body.
The New Zealand effect workshop Weta decided to take characteristics of dogs, lions, polar bears, and elephants to create a new sort of dragon who manages to seem lovable and fierce all at once.
Disney's latest version of Pete's Dragon, starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, and Oakes Fegley as Pete, is already a hit with reviewers. As Richard Lawson wrote in his review for Vanity Fair, the movie "graciously appeals to a deep, shared constant in all of us: it finds, and nourishes, the soul."
All without Elliot uttering a single word. Beautiful.