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Dan's DVD/Blu-ray Review: Pete's Dragon

Fire-breathing fun from 1977.
Pete's Dragon (Disney)

Rated G.

Starring Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Sean Marshall, Charles Tyner, Gary Morgan, Jeff Conaway, Cal Bartlett, Jane Kean, Jim Backus.

Written by Malcolm Marmorstein and S.S. Field, based on the short story by Seton Miller.

Directed by Don Chaffey.

GRADE: B

DVD/Blu-ray REVIEW:


Ah, the Disney musical. It's a bygone art form, and we're probably not going to see many more (High School Musical cable TV movies aside - if we're lucky). One such classic that came in toward the end of the 1970s was Pete's Dragon, a live action-animated hybrid about a boy and his best friend/dragon released for the first time on Blu-ray this week (35th anniversary).

Sean Marshall plays Pete in his film debut, a boy on the run from his adopted family, the vile hillbilly Gogans, led by matriarch Lena Gogan (Shelly Winters). Pete finds refuge in Passamaquoddy, a seaside fishing community in the early 20th Century. Pete meets Nora (Helen Reddy) and her father Lampie (Mickey Rooney), the local lighthouse operators and finds a temporary home, as Elliott the dragon hides out in nearby cave.

Two flimflam artists, Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his flunky Hoagy (Red Buttons) come to town and learn of Elliott's existence, thanks to the dragon's many destructive blunders whiel trying to protect his buddy Pete. Terminus and Hoagy bump into the Gogans and strike a deal to capture Elliott, while delivering Pete back to them.

A grand caper involving a dragon trap, as storm, and the return of Nora's lost love who must traverse the treacherous waves near the town culminates in a trademark Disney happy ending.

Pete's Dragon is a reminder of a time when the family movie musical was officially on life support, with talented actors like Rooney, Winters and Buttons at the end of their careers. It was also Helen Reddy's first (and last) starring role, and if you like her voice, then good for you. If you find it kind of annoying, then...not so much. The songs and choreography in Pete's Dragon are cute and reminiscent of other movie musicals, even if a little sappy and forgettable.

Pete's Dragon utilizes an animated-live action hybrid technique developed by Disney studios many decades prior by famed innovator Ub Iwerks. In today's world of computerized animation and graphics, it's certainly horse-and-buggy tech, but it works well enough to keep Pete's Dragon entertaining, even if some of the phony-looking effects are distracting.

Contemporary kids being introduced to Pete's Dragon for the first time will like this Disney classic, while parents who saw the film in their youth will recall fond memories. As a musical, it's not quite up to par with classic musical blockbusters, but it's good enough for Disney.

DVD/Blu-ray Extras:

Includes a short documentary on the making of Pete's Dragon, narrated by Sean Marshall (as an adult). The documentary explains in great detail the live action/animation combo process developed by Disney studios.


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