Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: I didn’t see this one coming. After directing one of the most talked-about films at Sundance Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, David Lowery has hired on with writing partner Toby Halbrooks to script Pete’s Dragon for Disney and producer Jim Whitaker. I’m told they will reinvent the core story of a venerable Disney family film. It will not be a musical and at this point Lowery is just engaged as writer. The original 1977 Pete’s Dragon mixed an animated fire-breather with a live-action cast of actors that included Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Helen Reddy and Jim Dale, with Sean Marshall playing the orphan boy who comes to a town with his magical dragon, his abusive adoptive parents in hot pursuit.

It is certainly a departure for Lowery, who made the jump from editor to director on Saints, a gritty drama he wrote and directed that stars Rooney Mara, Rami Malek, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster. It’s the tale of an outlaw who escapes prison and sets across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. The film was acquired by IFC, which will release the pic August 16. He made a small feature called St. Nick, about runaway children who have to fend for themselves in the wild, so he has explored themes of innocence and magical realism. And he and Halbrooks made the Sundance short Pioneer, which was essentially an epic bedtime story.

Lowery’s repped by WME.

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