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It’s A Brazzle Dazzle Disney Movie with Pete and his Dragon
For my sister Bethan
This is a live-action Disney movie with a cartoon-animated dragon in it!
My sister Bethan, when she was alive before she died at six years old, loved her favourite Disney movies. These include the Disney film ‘Peter Pan’, ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Bambi’. But she also loved the 1977 film, ‘Pete’s Dragon’. And I’ve got to admit, I’ve enjoyed watching this movie in recent years.
‘Pete’s Dragon’ is a musical fantasy comedy film about a young boy named Pete and his best friend who is a dragon called Elliot. I saw this movie at a young age as a kid, although I have vague memories from my first viewing experience of it. When I saw this film again on DVD in 2002, I gained more clarity.
I found myself watching the film again and again in 2002 as I must’ve enjoyed it so much. I even created a fantasy film-styled story around it in 2002. When I saw it again recently for this review, I still enjoyed it but I also found how silly and over-the-top it was with some of its acting, storytelling and even music.
I know that’s to be expected in certain Disney films made at that time, but I found it easy to make fun of it especially in certain points where the film’s storytelling didn’t make much sense. Despite that, I found there was this certain charm and nostalgia to the film that won’t go away for me to like it more.
There has been a recent remake of ‘Pete’s Dragon’ made in 2016 which was released at the cinemas. However I’ve not seen that film yet and I’m not really in a hurry to see it since I’ve discovered it’s more of a drama than a musical. Even if I do see that remake, I won’t consider it to be as good as the original.
The original ‘Pete’s Dragon’ has this certain charm and quality that’s so irresistible to like. It’s amazing how inventive and creative the behind-the-scenes team were making this film light-hearted, fun and feel-good. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I certainly enjoyed it and I will always recall it fondly.
But what is ‘Pete’s Dragon’ about? Well I’ll give the film credit, it has a charming story to it that feels Disney-like. Like I said, the film’s about a boy named Pete and his dragon called Elliot. Pete is an orphan who’s been running away from his really cruel foster family called the Gogans who try to get him back.
The film is set during the early 1990s. Pete manages to escape the Gogans with help of his fire-breathing dragon friend Elliot. Elliot is really friendly and seems protective of the boy Peter. He can also make himself invisible. Pete somehow sees Elliot when invisible as well as understand his ‘words’.
Anyway, Pete and Elliot come across the town of Passamaquoddy where they hope to settle in and be welcomed. But Pete’s dragon Elliot can often be mischievous and clumsy despite being friendly. This all results in Pete being unwelcomed by the Passamaquoddy people. Pete scolds Elliot for causing trouble.
Eventually though, Pete meets Nora and her father Lampie who are lighthouse keepers in Passamaquoddy. They welcome Pete into their family, playing along that he has his dragon friend called Elliot. Passamaquoddy soon has the flamboyant arrival of Dr. Terminus and his assistant, Hoagy.
Once he discovers about Pete’s dragon, Dr. Terminus wants to purchase Elliot to chop him up and use him as ‘medical’ tonics. When the Gogans arrive to catch up with Pete, Dr. Terminus acquires their services to capture Elliot in exchange for Pete. Will Pete gain his ‘happy ever after’ in Passamaquoddy?
Sean Marshall plays the title role of Pete in this movie. I like young Sean Marshall’s performance as Pete. He can seem too nice in terms of character, but I find that to be an admiring quality. I wanted to see him have his happy life with Nora and Lampie and to get away from being a slave with the Gogans.
I did wonder how Pete could understand Elliot the dragon through his incomprehensible dialogue and is even able to see him when he’s invisible. It’s never explained, but then again this is a Disney film. That didn’t stop it from being charming and even I found Pete’s good nature really contagious at times.
Elliot the dragon is voiced by Charlie Callas in the film. Well, when I say ‘voiced’, I don’t mean the dragon actually talks. It’s all incomprehensible mumbles with Elliot sounding like “Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop” when he speaks. Like I said, Pete somehow understands him. Even other characters do at points.
The mixture of live action with animation in Elliot the dragon is amazing and impressive for its time. I know it’s dated and nowadays you can do with dragons with CGI. But back then, it must have been high-tech stuff with a combination of live-action and cartoon animation. It adds a certain charm to it.
Helen Reddy stars as Nora, daughter of lighthouse keeper Lampie. Nora is headstrong but has a kind heart. She adopts Pete when she finds him in a cave on the shore of Passamaquoddy. It was interesting to learn that Nora had this fiancé named Paul who she lost when he had disappeared at sea years ago.
Mickey Rooney stars as Lampie, Passamaquoddy’s lighthouse keeper and Nora’s father. Wow! Mickey Rooney’s in this! He’s older since the days he did movies with Judy Garland! Lampie is the first one to meet Pete and see his dragon Elliot. He’s terrified once he sees a dragon, yet no-one else believes him.
Jim Dale stars as Dr. Terminus, the movie’s villain. Ah, so that’s where the space station ‘Terminus’ in ‘Doctor Who’ got its name from. 😀 Doc Terminus is a fraud since he performs a show to tell Passamaquoddy his medic tonics are the best. Jim Dale is clearly relishing his villainous role in the film.
Red Buttons stars as Hoagy, Dr. Terminus’ assistant in the film. He’s definitely a sidekick and foil for Doc Terminus and his actor Red Buttons can be very over-the-top in performing his lines. 😀 Hoagy is easily scared when he sees Elliot for the first time, believing he will get eaten up when Elliot is friendly.
Shelley Winters stars as Lena Gogan, who is like the domineering mother-leader of the Gogan family. It’s interesting how the Gogans want the boy Pete back since they’ve bought him and ‘a bill of sale’ to prove it. Lena Gogan stands out for me and she not only bullies Pete but her own family members too.
The other members of the Gogan family are Charles Tyner as Merle Gogan, Lena’s husband as well as Gary Morgan as Grover and Jeff Conaway as Willie, the Gogan sons. The cast also includes Jean Kean as Miss Taylor, Passamaquoddy’s rather strict schoolteacher who takes Pete in as one of her students.
There’s also Jim Backus as the Mayor of Passamaquoddy who gets his cigars ruined during accidents caused by Elliot. 😀 There’s Cal Bartlett as Paul, Nora’s fiancé and sailor who disappeared at sea and Walter Barnes as the Captain of the ship Paul returns home on. The cast seemed to enjoy making this film!
The music and songs for this film varied. While the musical score by composer Irwin Kostal is good, there were musical numbers I found over-the-top and nonsensical like ‘The Happiest Home In These Hills’ song by the Gogans and the ‘I Saw A Dragon’ dance routine with Lampie, Nora and the townsmen.
With that said, there songs in the film that I liked including ‘There’s Room for Everyone’; ‘Every Little Piece’ and of course ‘Brazzle Dazzle Day’. The song ‘Candle on the Water’ performed by Nora was nominated for a movie award on Best Original Song as well as a nomination on the film’s musical score.
The DVD bonus features are as follows. On the original 2001 DVD, there’s the ‘Lighthouse Keeping’ cartoon with Donald Duck; the ‘Man, Monster and Mysteries’ animated featurette; an excerpt from the ‘Disney Family Album’; still frame galleries and ‘Where’s Elliot’ – The Disappearing Dragon Game’.
On recent DVD/Blu-ray releases of ‘Pete’s Dragon’, there’s the ‘Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney’s Movie Magic’ featurettes narrated by Sean Marshall; the deleted storyboard sequence ‘Terminus & Hoagy Hunt Elliot’; and there’s the original song concept for ‘Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop’ (‘I Love You Too’). There are also two theatrical trailers for the movie.
‘Pete’s Dragon’, the original 1977 film, is really a lot of fun. I know it’s performed over-the-top in certain places through the acting and the music. But this live-action Disney film featuring a cartoon dragon has a charm to it that’s so irresistible for me to like and I always enjoy it when I get the chance.
I’m pleased I revisited the film for this review as it meant a lot to me when I watched it as a young kid and then watched it again on DVD in 2002. ‘Pete’s Dragon’ is a charming Disney film that I always remember and I hope I will reutilise some of the story ideas I created from re-watching it back in 2002.
‘Pete’s Dragon’ rating – 8/10
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