Directed By: Don Chaffey (Live Action) & Don Bluth (Animation)
Produced By: Jerome Courtland & Ron Miller
Based On: Unpublished Short Story by Seton Miller
Premiered On: November 3, 1977
Distribution By: Buena Vista Distribution
Considering that today is not only a leap year day but also my actual birthday, I’m going to put a pause on my take of Disney Animated Feature Films and focus on one of the few live action films that incorporated animation to a spectacular degree and featuring a dragon who will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Pete’s Dragon is the story of the titular orphan boy named Pete who is on the run from the not-quite-stereotypical adoptive family with the help of a dragon named Elliott. I say not-quite because while the Gogans are the everyday abusive family making use of the adopted orphan as a unpaid servant, there are a hoot and a half to watch, especially when Elliott is making some sweet, cathartic revenge on behalf of Pete.
The pair eventually make their way to the town of Passamaquoddy, a small fishing village located on the coast of Maine and where Pete is almost immediately taken in by Nora, the daughter of the town’s somewhat alcoholic lighthouse keeper Lampie. Of course, things don’t go easy for Pete as Elliott’s innocent antics are often pinned on him despite heavy evidence pointing to a larger, far more reptilian source.
I kid you not, there’s a moment where Pete’s walking alongside some wet cement and Elliott follows along after him leaving his clearly draconic footprints in the cement and the worker actually blames it on Pete. I’m sorry, but what? How in the heck could those footprints possibly belong to a boy who is all of ten years old at best? Forgive me if I’m wrong but I was under the impression that humans generally have five toes and a severe lack of claws.
Of course, another source of trouble for Pete, or more specifically for Elliott, is the showman “medicinal” man named Dr. Terminus and Hoagie, his shill, which is a fancier way of saying stooge but being rather specific in that said stooge helps their boss by way giving publicity and/or credit to said boss. Dr. Terminus, on the run from the last town he swindled, hadn’t realized that he was back in Passamaquoddy until the pair are met with an angry mob that Dr. Terminus makes the connection.
Following this is a series of stupidity that solidified my opinion that this town was filled with idiots and that includes Nora despite her good intentions with Pete. Dr. Terminus lists off all of his supposed successes and brushes aside the complaints with empty praise, i.e. a man whose hair was gray got it turned pink, a more “becoming” color for the gentleman in question whilst another woman had become a blob of fat meaning there’s “so much more of her to love.”
What’s worse is that Hoagie helps prove Dr. Terminus’ “cures” by pretending to be ailing townsfolk. What really has me scratching my head at this is the fact that this town is supposedly small enough that everybody knows each other by name so how in the heck did no one, not a single person, stop and ask the age-old question, “Hey do those people look like that little shill of his in a wig?”
As to Nora… She tries (she really, really does) with Pete but she fails to do the one thing she could have done to get the Gogans, Pete’s adopted “family” thrown right into jail. Early 1900’s or not, when a family is literally singing at the top of their lungs that they have a “bill of sale” for a boy and that he’s no different than the family cow, I’m sure more than a few badge wearing individuals would like to have a word or two with them on such opinions.
Heck, Elliott himself proved that so long as the “Bill of Sale” is destroyed, the Gogans have no claim on the boy. Admittedly, that piece of paper stands up to a heck of a lot of punishment before ultimately falling to a good old blast of dragon fire but still, has the woman not heard of the old, snatch, grab, and tear to tiny ribbons?
Of course, being a kid’s movie and a musical at that, one has to expect abundant lack of the rare and elusive power known as common sense. On the note of music, pun totally intended, I had a tough a time picking a singular song for this film. There are some that can be called fitting to the film overall while others are just plain fun to sing and to watch on the screen.
Admittedly, the song “Candle on the Water” is easily the most popular song from the film and had even been up for an Academy Award but lost out to a song I’ve never heard of for a film I can’t say I’ve seen. The song is sung by Nora to her lover Paul, or rather the open seas where he had been lost to for over a year previously. It’s not a song that I’d initially say describes the film as a whole until one listens to the actual lyrics. Though not a happy go lucky song, it is definitely one that tugs at the heartstrings, particularly for those whom are still waiting for the return of those far and away from home.
The other song that I like despite having no reason to is “Every Little Piece,” the song sung by Dr. Terminus to Hoagie about the worth every single piece of Elliott can bring to the two of them. It’s a song that if read out of context is one of those exceptionally dark children’s songs unless it is heard in its original tune and even then, that’s quite a stretch. Despite this, one of the reasons that I like this song, which in truth is the only reason but I digress, is hearing Terminus listing off all these miracle cures different dragon parts are said to possess, cures that I can’t help but wonder where and when they were proven and certified as the real deal.
Taking dragon’s blood for example, Terminus cites that one can never grow old with it, though not how this can be done, but it is a very popular fact that, at least in European lore, dragon’s blood is highly poisonous. In point of fact, the only time dragon’s blood was ever known to be beneficial to a human was in the myth of Siegfried who slain the dragon Fafnir and bathed in the beast’s blood to gain the same nigh invincible skin as the dragon, completely heedless of the fact that he missed a spot on his back.
Wrapping up this review and away from my random draconic trivia, I give Pete’s Dragon a good four out of five stars. It’s a film that can be enjoyed by kids and arguably so by adults. Musicals, much as many might try and argue otherwise, are not as popular as they once were in the current generation and with good reason. One can enjoy the music and even the dancing/choreography involved but one still cannot refrain themselves entirely from sitting back and wondering to themselves just where is that one person in the crowd looking around at everybody in abject confusion, wondering just what the heck is going on.
Thank goodness the remake’s not going to be a musical.