Rediscover with your family the endearing story between Pete and his invisible dragon friend Elliott as they develop a special bond and share a magical friendship. With memorable characters and heartwarming songs including the 1977 Academy Award “Best Original Song” nominee, “Candle On The Water,” Pete’s Dragon 35th Anniversary is the perfect timeless classic every member of your family will love. The film stars Mickey Rooney (The Fox and the House, Night at the Museum), Helen Reddy (singer/songwriter), Sean Marshall (The Small One, The New Adventures of Heidi), Red Buttons (The Poseidon Adventure, The Longest Day) and Jim Dale (TV’s “Pushing Daisies”).
The movie starts with an earnest young boy named Pete (Sean Marshall) trying to escape his hillbilly captors by hiding in a forest. No this isn’t Wrong Turn as Pete also has an invisible dragon named Elliot who is there to assist him escape the Gogan family that had paid $50 for him so he could be their slave. To teach the Gogans a lesson and to get them to stop following Pete, Elliot knocks Lena Gogan (Shelley Winters) and her husband Merle (Charles Tyner) and their sons Grover (Gary Morgan) and Willie (“Taxi’s” Jeff Conaway) into a mud pit. Pete and Elliot make a run for it and come across a small coastal town called Passamaquoddy where Pete hopes they can make new friends.
Thanks to Elliot being clumsy and breaking things while invisible, Pete is blamed by the townspeople who don’t want him around the town causing trouble. While trying to escape the irate townspeople, Pete and Elliot run into the town drunk named Lampie (Mickey Rooney) who sees Elliot while visible and freaks out and tells the other bar patrons what he say. Not that it matters, as they write off his rantings as drunken nonsense. Lampie’s daughter Nora (Helen Reddy) arrives and after a quick bar dance on barrels, she takes him home to sleep it off. Elliot and Pete hide in a nearby cave by the ocean where Pete chastises Elliot for causing so much trouble. Nora shows up at the cave and offers Pete some shelter at the lighthouse where she lives with her father. Pete learns about Nora’s missing fiancee Paul and he tells her that Elliot can find him.
Another unwelcome visitor named Doctor Terminus (Jim Dale) and his assistant Hoagy (Red Buttons) arrive in town to a chilly reception as they are still unpopular from their last visit there. Not that hostility lasts for long when Doc puts on a show that wins them over again even though he can’t pronounce the town’s name even with help. It’s not long before Hoagy and him are successfully peddling their fake medicine again. Back at the bar, Lampie tries to convince Terminus and Hoagy that the dragon exists but Terminus dismisses him. Hoagy is curious and drunk enough to go with Lampie to the cave where they do discover Elliot and give him alcohol which goes badly and leaves them running from the cave screaming in terror.
Things get worse for Pete because he’s blamed by the local fishermen for the lack of fish in the area and it doesn’t get any easier for him at school either when the teacher punishes him for talking about Elliot. Tensions grow even more when Elliot crashes through the school wall while invisible to save Pete. Thanks to the overwhelming evidence that there is a real dragon around, Terminus starts making plans to capture the dragon so he can chop him up to make new medicines. He makes a deal with the Gogan to team up so he can get Elliot and they can take Pete back. Terminus even convinces the local fishermen to help him capture the dragon so the fish will return. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Elliot has indeed found Nora’s missing fiancee Paul, who is trying to steer his ship back home in the middle of a massive storm. It will be up to Elliot to save the day once again which is why he’s there in the first place.
I remember watching and kind of liking this movie as a kid. I remember I wasn’t that thrilled with all of the songs in the movie and I didn’t really like the kid either, but I loved the idea of having a dragon of my own and I really liked Jim Dale as Terminus. I’ve discovered that a couple of decades later, my feelings about the movie haven’t changed that much. There’s still too many songs, the kid is still annoying, and the dragon and Jim Dale are still cool. In fact, the main reason you should watch this movie is Jim Dale’s performance. I generally don’t like over the top performances, but he’s having so much fun and is so committed to the role that I can’t help but enjoy it. Helen Reddy has a decent debut performance and Mickey Rooney turns in another one of his customary over the top (in a bad way) performance where he spends every second of screen time trying to outdo the other performers. I think families will enjoy this movie but I’d recommend other Disney live action movies like Swiss Family Robinson before this one.
This 1080p (1.66:1) transfer looks good for its age with the live action portion looking better than the the animated parts with Elliot. The live action scenes offer more detail and come across a lot better than the animated parts that contain a lot more grain. Colors are also somewhat muted during the animated portions but the the live action parts look very good. Black levels are decent but not as dark or solid as I would have liked.
Pete’s Dragon’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is fair but nothing spectacular. The front channel offers some clear dialogue that’s intelligible and clean despite its age. The rear channels aren’t really used that much except during the many musical numbers where the mix perks up more than usual. I’m not a huge fan of the multitude of songs in this movie, but I have to admit that those in particular at least come across well.
Inexplicably, Disney has decided to cut down on the extras that were previously released and not included them on this Blu-ray which is very uncharacteristic for the studio. Usually, Disney adds the previous extras along with new ones for each of their releases. If you own the earlier “High-Flying Edition” you might want to hold on to it as it’s missing: the the 25-minute short “Man, Monsters and Mysteries”, three original demo recordings, four re-imagined versions of songs from the movie, “Where’s Elliott?: The Disappearing Dragon Game”, notes covering “About Pete’s Dragon”, an art gallery, a Disney Channel documentary excerpt from the “Disney Family Album” that’s focused on Elliott animator Ken Anderson, an excerpt from a “Disneyland” episode that has Walt Disney presenting “The Plausible Impossible”, and last but not least, a 1946 Donald Duck short called “Lighthouse Keeping”. All in all, that’s almost an hour of material that should be on this disc and isn’t which is very disappointing. Let’s take a look at what is here:
- Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney’s Movie Magic – At almost thirty minutes long, this is a very comprehensive look at both the technical wizardry of the Disney studio and his research and development point man Ub Iwerks who was instrumental in advancing the Disney production techniques. The first half of this featurette covers the history and process of combining live action and animation and the second half is devoted to the making of Pete’s Dragon. An off-screen Sean Marshall (Pete) talks about making the movie as well as himself.
- Terminus & Hoagy Hunt Elliott – A deleted scenes that’s recreated with pencil sketches and archived audio to bring it to life.
- The Original Song Concept for “Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too)” – I didn’t like the version in the movie and I don’t like this 70s era version either.
- Trailers – Two reissue trailers have been included.
- The DVD version of the movie is included.
I think kids will enjoy this movie but many parents might be overwhelmed by the film’s saccharine songs and performances. Like I mentioned earlier, the best thing in this movie is Jim Dale who later gained even more fans from his readings of the Harry Potter audio-books. While the video and audio portions look and sound pretty good, I can’t say the same about the decimated extras that should have included the earlier special features but don’t. This isn’t one of the better Disney releases but it’s a nice time capsule with some interesting performances and it’s also a look at one of Don Bluth’s main contributions for Disney before he moved on to his own pursuits.
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