Orphan Pete (Sean Marshall) escapes from the clutches of the evil and abusive Gogan family (led by Shelly Winters, of all people) and heads to the quiet seaside town of Passamaquoddy. There he is befriended by kindly lighthouse keeper Nora (Helen Reddy) and put to work by her drunken, if kindhearted, father Lampie (Mickey Rooney). Also in town? A pair of swindlers, snake oil salesman Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his duplicitous assistant Hoagie (Red Buttons), the pair willing to stop at nothing when they learn that Pete’s best friend is a sometimes invisible dragon named Elliott (whom everyone in town – including Nora – but Lampie thinks is imaginary) whose every cell holds magical healing properties they think will make them rich.
I’m not going to claim that 1977’s Pete’s Dragon is a great movie. At a 128 minutes it’s far too long, spending way too much time on pratfalls and pointless subplots than is even remotely necessary. All the same, my fondness for this 35-year-old chestnut knows few bounds, and overall my memories of it are so strong that any problems I have with certain portions of the film dissipate into nothingness rather quickly.
Is it Mary Poppins or Bedknobs and Broomsticks, live action/animation hybrids that have not only stood the test of time but far surpassed to become nothing short of classics (especially the former)? No, not at all, but it did set the stage for future amazements, namely Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which was also worked on by the great Don Hahn, the legendary composite artist cutting his teeth on this production), and while some of the effects are dated that doesn’t make them any less extraordinary (especially for 1977).
More, the music is wonderful. Not just the Academy Award nominated song “Candle on the Water,” which is every bit as timeless as ever, but almost all of the tunes have a spark and spunk to them that’s undeniably catchy. Having not watched the movie in at least a decade I was a little surprised by just how many of the words to “Brazzle Dazzle Day,” “I Love You, Too” and other tunes I could still recall. Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn’s music and lyrics have a quality to them that is undeniable, and in some ways it’s a pity much of their work on this (save, of course, “Candle on the Water”) has been borderline forgotten.
Director Don Chaffey handles all of this with undeniable confidence, which should come as a surprise considering he also handled Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C. At the same time, the Gogans are unfortunate addition to the proceedings who only manage to slow things down whenever they appear, while Dr. Terminus is too forgettable to be a truly menacing foil for either Pete or Elliott.
Still, Pete’s Dragon is filled with great moments, gifted with sparkling performances by both Reddy and Rooney, some divine moments of comedy (most notably Elliott making a nuisance of himself at the schoolhouse) and features some spellbinding animation from ex-Disney animator Don Bluth (whose last film at the studio this was). My fondness for this film hasn’t dwindled in the least bit, and for young children for certain this is one minor Disney classic a whole new generation deserves to become enchanted with.
Pete’s Dragon is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.67:1/1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack along with a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track and comes with optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
Extras are ported over from the previous DVD edition and include:
· Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney's Movie Magic
· Terminus & Hoagy Hunt Elliott
· “Boo Bop Bopbop Bob (I Love You, Too)”
· Original Theatrical Trailers
Actor Sean Marshall, all grown up and adult, hosts the almost 30 minute long Brazzle Dazzle Effects, and this breezy retrospective is relatively entertaining diving into Disney’s history of animation/live action hybrids and talking about the technology used at the time to bring Elliott to life. The rest? It’s okay, but there isn’t a lot, that for sure. The deleted scene and the alternate version of the “I Love You, Too” song are mostly brought to life through storyboards, and while both are interesting I could have used a bit more (especially considering this disc is labeled a ‘35th Anniversary Edition’).
Pete’s Dragon isn’t perfect, and I’m not sure older kids are going to respond to it all that well. But it does have an undeniable charm, fantastic songs and some seriously great moments, many of which I have remembered fondly for three decades. More, little kids are going to adore it, making this as easy a purchase for families as any I could ever recommend to them.