RETROREVIEWS #18: PETE’S DRAGON (1977)

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MAY 24, 2013 SCREENING: PETE’S DRAGON (1977)

 

 

 

 

Pete’s Dragon is the second of two Disney cartoon dragon movies I watched during my fantasy film marathon. It was a completely different experience, so usually I’d spend this time telling you whether I felt it was the better or worse of the two films. However, I can’t because it pretty much breaks even. In contrast to 1941’s The Reluctant Dragon (which spent most of its time talking about Walt Disney Studios than telling us the story of the reluctant dragon) this movie lives up to its title – its all about a 10 year old boy named Pete, and his dragon, Elliott. Of course, this twist here is that Pete’s magic dragon has the ability to make himself invisible, so nobody in the film gets to see Elliott except Pete. Originally, this was going to be the case for the audience as well. The final film gives us about 20 minutes of seeing Elliott on screen, and he is depicted in cartoon form. It’s animated well enough, though given how annoying Elliott is, I can’t help but wonder if I’d enjoy this movie if he had been “invisible” the whole time.

Many live action Disney films of the 1970s (The Apple Dumpling Gang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, etc.) haven’t aged well, and I’d probably add this movie to the list. In the film’s defense, if we rated it for being annoying, it ‘s not in the category of big budget, more-modern looking movie George Lucas’ epics like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which both had the most annoying sidekicks on the planet, regardless of what else they had going for it). This film features a number of notable actors as supporting characters (Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters, etc.) and the all do their job well and have a decent script to work with. Elliot seemed like a one dimensional “harmless loveable doofus that everyone is scared of” stock character to me. Much of the movie involves slapstick with him accidentally knocking things over and making grunting sounds showing he’s sorry about it. Again, I’d have to use the George Lucas comparison: I didn’t care for this character, but he’s not as bad as Jar Jar Binks.

 

 

 

This was another slow moving, boring movie, although I had actually gotten into the story and found myself rooting for our heroes by the climatic showdown at the lighthouse. Apparently this film is remembered for its musical number, “Candle on the Water“, though I doubt the song did much for me since I draw a blank when I try to remember any of it. What can be said in the movie’s favor is that it mixes live action and animation pretty well, and has them interact together in much the same way that later films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? would do. In this way, I suppose the movie could be seen as a pioneer in its field, though what it gave us in 1977 pales to the type of the stuff they do today in that category. It does deserve praise because this was the first involving animation in which none of the Nine Old Men — Disney’s original team of animators — were involved. Still, I didnt’ care for the green-and-pink design of the dragon with his shaggy hair and stupid grin. It too, comes across as very “1970s” style character designs. This is more of a matter of personal taste, I suppose.

 

 

 

It’s ultimately a fun little movie and I don’t regret watching it. At the same time, I don’t think I’d want to rewatch it, or recommend it to others.

 

 

 

** out of ****

 

 

 

 

 

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