(If this is your first time on this blog, I ask you to read my About page first! You can find a link to it at the top left-hand corner of this blog. Thanks!)
With Disney’s onslaught of live-action remakes of their previous films comes the announcement of a remake of their 1977 film, Pete’s Dragon. While the original was a musical, the remake is set to be a regular film with stars such as Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford. The film is set to be released next year, so while we await it, it seems proper to review the original film first.
So, let’s sit back and take a look at this film and see if Pete’s Dragon is any good and worthy to be remade or if it’s not good at all, hence worthy of being remade.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film opens up to a young boy, Pete, played by Sean Marshall, running away in the woods…or more appropriately, levitating away?
No, Pete isn’t really levitating. He’s actually riding his invisible dragon friend, Elliott. Elliott has the power to show himself or be invisible. He was originally supposed to never be shown a la Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey, but this was later changed.
Pete and Elliott are running away from Pete’s adoptive abusive family, the Gogans. The Gogans are your typical hillbilly family played by Shelley Winters, Charles Tyner, Gary Morgan, and Jeff Conaway.
As they search for Pete, they try to entice him to come back home (and be their slave, pretty much) via a song, The Happiest Home in These Hills. And here we come to my first major complaint about this movie. It’s a musical and to be honest, the majority of these songs just don’t cut it for me. I find the majority of them very forgettable and with very weird melodies/rhyming patterns. Yes, there are one or two songs that are good or tolerable, but as a musical, I think this movie really fails.
Anyway, Pete and Elliott manage to get away from the Gogans and head to a nearby town named Passamaquoddy.
It’s your average fishing town, but Elliott’s size turns out to be a bit of a problem causing him to wreck stuff around the town. He, of course, has to make himself invisible when entering the town, so the townsfolk only see Pete and assume that all the damage is his fault.
The townsfolk run after Pete, but Pete manages to hide behind some crates. Elliott temporarily manifests himself and Pete gives him a good talking-to. It’s there that we come into contact with a lighthouse keeper with a passion for drink, Lampie, played by Mickey Rooney. He bumps into Pete and befriends him, but once he sees Elliott, he’s absolutely terrified. He heads into the tavern warning the patrons there about what he saw in one of the few songs in this movie that I like, I Saw a Dragon.
But, of course, the patrons shrug this off as just another hallucination that Lampie has seen due to his inebriation. Even his daughter, Nora, played by Helen Reddy, doesn’t pay much mind to his words. She takes her father home to the lighthouse and puts him to bed. She then notices Pete hanging around in a cave near the shore and invites him to come up to the lighthouse for some food. He agrees and tells Elliott to stay in the cave.
At the lighthouse, Pete starts telling Nora about his life with the Gogans, running away, and his dragon (who Nora, of course, thinks is imaginary). She feels sympathy for him and lets him spend the night.
The next day, Passamaquoddy is visited by a quack doctor and his stooge. Doc Terminus, played by Jim Dale, and his stooge, Hoagy, played by Red Buttons, travel from town to town selling phony potions to unsuspecting townspeople. They’ve arrived in Passamaquoddy after being chased out of another town. Doc Terminus recognizes Passamaquoddy as a town that he’s been to before (and been thrown out of before) and he tries to get on the townsfolk’s good side by singing a song about their town. Sadly, he can never get the town’s name correct.
Later that night, Nora sings what is no doubt, the best song in the film, Candle on the Water, at her lighthouse. The song was nominated for an Academy Award and was actually the only song written for the movie before they decided to make it a full-out musical. If they had kept this as the only song, I feel the film would have been much better.
Anyway, what’s the song about? Nora’s beloved Paul went out to sea over a year ago and has since not returned. It’s assumed that he’s dead, but Nora still has a lingering grasp of hope (or maybe just desire) that Paul’s alive. So the song is about how she’ll always be there for Paul, guiding him back if he ever needs it…I think.
Pete finds out about Paul and asks Elliott if he can go find Paul to make Nora happy again as gratitude for treating Pete so kindly. Speaking of the dragon, Doc Terminus soon hears news about Pete’s so-called dragon. He, of course, pooh-poohs it, but becomes a believer when Elliott makes an impression at the schoolhouse.
The quack doctor then gets an idea that if he can get his hands on Elliott, he can make a lot of money from his dragon parts. Doc Terminus offers to buy Elliott from Pete, but Pete can’t sell Elliott since he doesn’t really own him. Taking this as a refusal to sell, Doc Terminus then decides to capture the dragon. He gets a lot of the townsfolk to help him (since they don’t like this supposedly fictional dragon anyway) as well as the Gogans who have arrived in town looking for Pete.
They capture Pete and use him as bait to lure Elliott into a boathouse rigged with a trap. This angers Elliott and he finally becomes apparent to all of the townsfolk. He manages to save Pete, send the Gogans on their way, take care of Doc Terminus and Hoagy for good, and even use his fiery breath to light the lighthouse and guide a ship in that’s about to crash on the rocks.
Who’s on this ship? Well, it’s Paul! Yep, Elliott managed to find Paul who crashed somewhere and lost his memory. With a helpful nudge from Elliott, Paul regained his memory, headed back home, and reunited himself with Nora.
The movie ends with the townspeople finally accepting Pete and Elliott in their town, Pete being adopted by Lampie and Nora, and Elliott leaving Pete because he says there are other kids in the world who need his help.
And that was Pete’s Dragon. And…it could have been a lot better.
There are two big problems that I have with this film. One of them is that there are many aspects of the plot that are not explained to us which makes the film more complicated to understand. For example, how exactly did Elliott find Pete? Is Elliott from a society of dragons that go about helping/befriending enslaved kids? How did the Gogans come to own Pete in the first place? I feel that had these questions been answered, the film would have made a lot more sense.
The other big problem, like I said before, was that I think this film fails as a musical. With the exception of Candle on the Water and maybe one or two more songs, the rest are just plain forgettable. I didn’t even mention most of the songs that appear in this film including the stereotypical acceptance song, There’s Room for Everyone, the greedy villain song, Every Little Piece, a random song about happiness or something like that, Brazzle Dazzle Day, and even a song about a receipt, Bill of Sale.
Other than that, the acting was great with comedy legends like Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, and even Jim Backus (in a cameo appearance) entertaining us as well as they do. Jim Dale does a great job as the conniving quack doctor. I’m also very pleased with Sean Marshall’s performance as well as Helen Reddy’s.
The effects are the classic Disney effects we expect to see when blending live-action with animation. It’s not dated and meshes perfectly with the rest of the film.
Sadly, the bad of this movie outweighs the good. So, I for one, am hoping that the upcoming remake can fix the problems that this movie creates and not being a musical is a good place to start!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 21/35 = 60% (D-) !
The next review will be posted on July 20th.