Pete's Dragon (1977)
Here we have a title that I remember from my childhood. It has been quite some time since I've sat to watch it, but I'm certain I was no older than maybe 10 at the time. I also would have caught it as a Disney Sunday Afternoon Movie, so it would have been edited much more, and to be perfectly frank, perhaps a bit more enjoyable.
The biggest problem with it is that there's a whole wack of seemingly unnecessary musical numbers that take away from an otherwise pretty good story. It often stops just to say "look what we can do", and I often found myself thinking "can we move on, now?" But if we take away some of the music, it actually becomes a nice, light-hearted family comedy, for the most part. That said, there's still an innocence to this one that's almost too innocent, often to the point of pure sap. Some might even look at it as being a touch creepy, at times.
As the film opens, we are introduced immediately to the underlying concept of the movie. A young boy named Pete (Sean Marshall) enters the scene, riding an invisible dragon named Elliot (, and running from the Gogan family (Shelly Winters, Charles Tyner, Gary Morgan, and Jeff Conaway). This cruel family claims to own Pete after having bought him to put him to work as a slave on their farm. Pete manages to elude the Gogans and their opening musical number, and hikes with Elliot to the town of Passamaquoddy, Maine.
Elliot, invisible while walking through town, causes a lot of damage, and the blame is placed on Pete. The pair turn a corner to have a talk about it, but are discovered by the town's lighthouse keeper, Lampie (Mickey Rooney). His ramblings of seeing a dragon are passed off as a drunken illusion to the rest of the townsfolk. But he's in for even more of a surprise when Pete and Elliot find themselves taking shelter in a seaside cave where they are discovered by Lampie's daughter, Nora (Helen Reddy) who takes Pete in.
In the meantime, every tale like this needs a villain who wants to capture the creature for his own selfish purposes. Enter Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his assistant Hoagy (Red Buttons). Terminus comes to town as a snake oil salesman, and barely manages to capture the town's attention with his own musical number. Business is okay, but when he gets wind that there's a dragon in town, he sees it as a unique business opportunity to use his various "parts" for a lot of different items he could sell that have the potential to actually work.
If I'm honest, there was quite a bit of material here that gave me genuine laughs. It's a comedic fantasy aimed a bit more towards kids, so when there's plenty of humor having to do with being drunk, and utilizing a lot of 'Three Stooges' style gags, it makes for a good time. This might date it a bit, depending on your perspective regarding good parenting methods. Such things include getting drunk to calm your nerves after seeing a dragon, as only Mickey Rooney can. But perhaps worse, the idea of a family trying to hunt a kid down to be a slave for them is downright scary. I have to admit that there were flash moments of camerawork here, regarding the Gogan family that I found creepy today, as a grown-ass slasher movie fan.
As mentioned before, I think this one would have worked a lot better with some of those musical numbers cut down. The musical numbers push it to a solid 2 hours plus, but it's a story that could easily take place within an hour and a half. With that said, this may very well have been what they went for at the time. In 1977, this was probably a great distraction for kids who were yet to be acquainted with things like video games and computers.
Today, it's still fairly passable, but there was also a remake in 2016 that may very well be better. I distinctly remember coming out of that one, and enjoying it for what it was. But after finishing this, while I had fun with it, it did prove to be a pretty sappy blend of the extreme end of innocence and the extreme end of whatever light trauma you could get away with as a Disney film. Just saying, but the remake averages an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, between critics and audiences. This one averages 57%. But if you wanna try this one out to get a little taste of Disney Broadway-ism fo a couple of hours, it still works.
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