Family/US Animation

Pete's Dragon

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            I thought I had seen every Disney movie ever made when I was a kid.  After all, what I didn't see in the theaters often found its way onto shows like The Mickey Mouse Club during the day or The Wonderful World of Disney at night.  It was there that I saw movies like The Apple Dumpling Gang, Herbie, The Shaggy D.A., Parent Trap and more.  So I was surprised to learn that there was a Disney movie out there I hadn't seen - Pete's Dragon.  When a friend of mine told me that this was one of her favorite movies growing up, I decided to check it out.

            Pete's Dragon stars Sean Marshall as Pete, an orphan who has run away from his latest foster home.  He is helped in this endeavor by a giant animated, sometimes invisible, dragon named Elliot.  As we soon discover, Pete has a very good reason for running away from home.  His foster family, the Gogans - mother Lena (Shelley Winters) and brothers Willie (Jeff Conway) and Grover (Gary Morgan) - only want him around as slave labor, doing all of the chores on their farm while they laze the day away.

            Pete and Elliot head to a nearby fishing town named Passamaquoddy to start a new life.  Unfortunately, Pete learns that having a playful and clumsy invisible dragon as a companion can lead to some unfortunate mishaps.  Pete doesn't exactly get off on the right foot with some of the locals in the area, especially the oft-drunk lighthouse keeper Lampie (Mickey Rooney).  Lampie's daughter, Nora (Helen Reddy) takes pity on the obviously orphaned child and decides to allow him to live with them.  Pete soon learns that Nora is a kin spirit, having lost a loved one at sea (Cal Bartlett).  Fearing him dead, but always hoping for his return, Nora hasn't moved forward in life, her loyalty to Paul keeping her from getting involved with other men.

            Meanwhile, another source of trouble has come to the town.  The quack Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his partner Hoagy (Red Buttons) have come to Passamaquoddy peddling their phony medications and elixirs.  When a drunken Hoagy is shown the very visible dragon living in a cave outside Lampie's lighthouse home, he and his employer formulate a plan to capture Elliot.  After all, dragons are known to have incredible healing properties...dragon parts, that is.  When the Gogans come to town, they team up with Dr. Terminus, helping him to capture the dragon while they capture Pete so they can bring him back to the farm.  Can Lampie and Nora save Pete and Elliot from the conniving grips of these villains?

            While many a Disney movie can be enjoyed by adults and children alike, I feel Pete's Dragon is one best enjoyed by young children.  There is more appeal to the younger generation of kids than to teens or adults in this film.  Also, this is not one of those timeless classics, appearing very dated both in its songs and its scenery.  Although I did find the interactions between Pete and Elliot cute and the antics of Lampie and Hoagy offered up a chuckle or two and found Helen Reddy's singing voice to be amazing as always, I just didn't enjoy this film as much as I have other Disney films in the past. 

            In fact, the most enjoyment I did get was watching the documentary Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney's Movie Magic after the movie was over.  This documentary explained how a film created in 1977 could contain such an amazing special effect as an animated giant, flying dragon interacting with a very real little boy.  Narrator Sean Marshall explains how he was chosen for the role and how he had to interact with a dragon that never really was on set.

            Quite honestly, that documentary was more interesting to me than the film itself.  Perhaps if I had seen Pete's Dragon when I was a child, I would have enjoyed it more then.  As an adult, I find that, while appealing to young children, Pete's Dragon isn't really on par with most of the Disney movies I have seen in my lifetime. 


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