VHS Review: Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Have you ever wanted to own your very own pet dragon? Think of the possibilities, the fun and the trouble you could get into! It could be one of the greatest adventures of your life. In this review I will decide if the movie Pete’s Dragon is the stuff of legend or a simply an old wives tale. Grab your sword and shield ya matey!

Pete’s Dragon is a Disney live-action / animated movie from 1977 and it shows its age everywhere you look. The story follows Pete, a red headed orphan who somehow got ahold of a magically dragon. Avoiding some serious child labor practices Pete runs away from home with his new pal Elliott otherwise known as the fire breathing dragon. He ends up shacking up with Nora, a frumpy looking lady who lost her man buddy in some sea storm, So Pete can live a better life. I thought he ran off with the town sleaze but I was sadly mistaken about that. Also Mickey Rooney plays a drunk lighthouse keeper and father of Nora – O boy! What fun we are going to have.

I love movies set in medieval time periods with dragons and sword play. (static then typewriter sounds) This just in, this movie takes place in the early 20th century not in medieval times – well that surly is a fine disappointment. It’s from this weird time setting that things really loose traction and fast for me. I kept waiting for the film to engage me, to make me smile, laugh and cry or all the things you expect from a good episode of Maury on a lazy weekday afternoon. But it feels like I kept getting commercials about the lap band instead.

The movie feels average at best to me. You can look at many different aspects of this movie and they all are average like the Cincinnati Bengals. Disney surly has done better. It can’t be the directors fault, some producer must of took control to destroy this film. Don Chaffey, who directed the famous Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years B.C. and a whole host of TV shows including T.J Hooker, MacGyver and Fantasy Island to name a few was at the helm – so what went wrong?

I was thinking about what is missing the most in this film and I would have to say there is a real disconnect between Pete and dragon vs. the town folks. Sure they play it off as the dragon can go invisible but for the audience watching it most of the time we keep getting reminding that Elliott is still there rather than seeing physical evidence of it. Sometimes the trees would blow or things would get knocked over but it’s like a video game navigation telling us where he is at any given moment.

When he does show up he is not that fun to watch, he does not pop off the screen like characters in Marry Poppins did or a whole host of other mishmash live action / animation movies have done. The main problem is that the dragon does not look scary, does not act like a monster and this confuses the hell out of me. Maybe I just don’t get this movie but I don’t find any appeal in it.

There are some funny bits when Elliott misbehaves and this is achieved by some special effect wire work but nothing a good stage show can’t do. I felt disconnected from the story, I did not care if Pete ended up happy because it never seemed like he was truly sad. If anything, kids experience more ups and downs in life then adults do. Think about a 4 year old if you take away their toy, if this small act can do that what would having no family create in a ten year old boy?

I kept waiting for the dragon to go nuts on the towns folk, destroying everything in side as if a node to the story of Frankenstein. If you take out the fear of the monster from that movie you get Pete’s Dragon and even the good Dr. Frankenstein could not make this one come back to life.

Another draw to this movie is the musical scores. Where there is a lot of songs in the movie nothing, once again, sticks out for me. They all seem average along with boring sets and predictable dance numbers. It is funny to see Mickey Rooney dancing around and acting drunk but that is not enough for me to want to watch it again.

There is a lot of child violence in this movie, Pete gets his ass kicked from everybody in the film. The school teacher smacks his arm with a ruler then starts to whip his ass, it was one of my favorite scenes. Of course the dragon busts in to save Pete with a very cheesy looking cut-out of where he entered the building. I bet in new releases of this movie Disney in there anti-terrorist mindset might cut out the punishment scenes or write on the box “Graphic displays of violence” or some other nonsense. Everybody smacks there kids around, if you want to deny yourself this fact then go ahead but don’t try to change the world because like Pete you won’ be able to.

This movie felt like a cross between Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland just minus all the good parts of those movies. The film drags itself out and whatever message it was trying to portray to the audience gets lost in a sub-par ending. A side story is that the lighthouse keeper, Nora’s man is lost at sea. She mentions him some and how he has not returned so Pete sends Elliott to go looking for him. Her emotions show that she really does not care that much about him and when he finally shows up it’s like he was just at the local 7-Eleven picking up some Coors Light for the big game.

When people do finally see the dragon they are not as surprised as they should have been, as if they were expecting it to look just like that. If you make a movie with a dragon you need to make the audience afraid of it just as much as the town’s folk are. In the end find a unique way to show the dragon is not all that bad; I think they went to over-the top with how charming Elliott the dragon is. The movie should be labeled Elliott’s Boy because the story loses its focus on the dragon and becomes about Pete. At the end of the film the dragon just up and leaves when things are all settled ala Kevin Costner in Waterworld. Maybe there is some connection between the two films and the dragon is actually his, now that would be a sequel!

Pros:  

–          A good mix of animation and live action segments.

–          Interesting characters.

–          Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island

Cons:

–          Bare-bones plot.

–          Lackluster song and dances.

–          Not enough magically Disney moments.

Final Rating: F

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