Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Sean Marshall
Malcolm Marmorstein, Seton I. Miller (story), S.S. Field (story)
Brazzle Dazzle Brilliance!
Get ready for a magical adventure, filled with friendship, fun and heartwarming songs, including the 1977 Academy Award(R) Best Song nominee "Candle on the Water," in the new High-Flying Edition DVD of Walt Disney's classic family film Pete's Dragon - now with dazzling new bonus features! It's a "Brazzle Dazzle Day" when an orphan named Pete and his best friend, Elliott - an invisible dragon! - wander into the seaside village of Passamaquoddy. Although Pete befriends the lighthouse keeper Nora (Helen Reddy) and her salty old father (Mickey Rooney), the townspeople think he is behind the hilarious "accidents" that keep happening. But after a daring rescue, everyone believes in Pete's fire-breathing buddy. Featuring an all-star cast (Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Jim Backus and Jeff Conaway), Pete's Dragon is a timeless classic every member of your family will love. Plus, the new High-Flying Edition includes an all-new behind-the-scenes look at the film's magical mix of live-action and animation, never-before-heard original demo recordings and much more!
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 129 min.
Release Date: 10/16/2012
• “Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney’s Movie Magic” Featurette
• Deleted Storyboard Sequence
• Original Song Concept
• DVD Copy
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Pete's Dragon [Blu-Ray] (1977)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 15, 2012)
In the nearly 14 years I’ve written reviews for this site, two movies have prompted more e-mails than any others: 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You and 1977’s Pete’s Dragon. The vast majority of the 10 Things complaints came my way circa 2000-2005, back when teen girls mooned over that film’s actors; I guess they found my review via Internet searches and pounced.
It’s been years since someone attacked me for my less-than-glowing review of 10 Things, but Dragon has been the gift that keeps on giving. Fans of this gentle fable trot out some of the foulest language imaginable to tell me what an awful person I am because I dislike this film.
Will this Blu-ray review launch more missives of that sort? Hopefully not, but we’ll see.
One thing the detractors need to understand is that I derive no pleasure from my opinion of Pete’s Dragon. I was 10 when it came out and maintain some fond memories of it from childhood. It’s never fun to revisit a fave from my youth and discover how terrible the film really is.
But make no mistake: Dragon is a thoroughly awful flick with almost literally no redeeming value. Combine the talents of Helen Reddy, Mickey Rooney, Jim Dale, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Charlie Callas, and some unknown little kid, and what do you get? A joyless, formulaic and dull Disney stinker.
Egad - look at that cast list again. Did Disney go out of their way to find the most obnoxious and annoying actors in creation? If so, they succeeded, as this grouping grated upon me from start to finish.
Granted, I shouldn’t paint my feelings with such a broad brush. Of that group, only Dale, Winters and the kid - long-forgotten urchin Sean Marshall - actively irritated me. The others seemed fairly tolerable, though the simple existence of Reddy is tough to take.
But even if Disney packed Pete’s Dragon with less annoying actors, it still probably would have been a dud. The story tells us about lonely orphan Pete (Marshall). At the start of the film, he’s on the run from the abusive and cruel Gogan family, headed by mama Lena (Winters). They’ve “adopted” him via a purchase, apparently, and they’re trying to track him down after he’s run away from them. However, Pete manages to give them the slip, so he and dragon friend Elliott (voiced by Callas) attempt to start a life in a quaint New England fishing village.
There they meet much resistance from the townsfolk, mainly because the clumsy - and often invisible - Elliott accidentally gets Pete into many jams. Pete tells everyone he didn’t do the actions for which he is accused, but no one believes him. Eventually the town drunk Lampie (Rooney) sees Elliott, but no one believes the alcoholic either. Lampie’s daughter Nora (Reddy) takes in Pete, however, and helps the boy get back on his feet.
Of course, complications ensue. Medicinal quack Dr. Terminus (Dale) comes to town with his toady Hoagy (Buttons) and soon learns of the existence of Elliott. Since dragons make real medicine, he attempts to acquire Elliott in many dastardly ways. Inevitably, the Gogans become involved as well, and Pete faces dire straits.
Yeah, whatever. The story is the same warmed-over hooey that we’ve seen many times. It takes liberal amounts of Oliver Twist and also delivers the old “don’t hate something different” message that has died a thousand deaths. This occurs through the townspeople’s eventual acceptance and praise of Elliott, a creature they initially feared.
Actually, they first didn’t believe he existed, which is why they blamed Pete for all the mishaps. Why didn’t Elliott just become visible to prove Pete’s innocence? I have no idea. It’s not like Pete tried to keep the dragon a secret; he blamed the poor creature for everything except the Kennedy assassination. (I think Oliver Stone pursued the “Elliott in the grassy knoll” theory in JFK, however.)
Many movies feature shopworn plots but overcome them; heck, almost every Disney animated film follows a predictable path. However, those flicks succeed through execution, another area in which Dragon fails. There’s simply nothing special, clever or winning about the film.
Marshall is one of the most drab and lifeless movie urchins I’ve seen; he offers no spark or presence on screen. Callas actually brings a fair amount of character to Elliott; the dragon never really speaks but instead uses a semi-nonsensical language of burps and clicks. I never liked Callas, but I must admit he does a fairly nice job in this underdone role.
One of the other reasons Dragon fails is due to the numerous - and terrible - songs we hear. Many Disney movies feature musical elements, but this one really goes over the top. It feels like there’s a new tune every five minutes, and all are uniformly drab and cheesy. It’s true that I don’t care for musicals, but I can respect them to a degree. Dragon earns no respect in that regard; it’s hackwork at best.
Back in the 1970s, Disney’s live-action movies - a category in which Pete’s Dragon belongs despite some cartoon elements - always felt like poor cousins to their animated siblings, and this one shows why. It seems like the Disney “B”-team got assigned to these pictures, and they faltered because of the qualities critics think belong to all Disney flicks: tired stories created with no inspiration.
Pete’s Dragon suffers the same fate. It’s a charmless and turgid affair that demonstrates the malaise at Disney in the Seventies as well as anything; between this film and The Rescuers, 1977 may well have been the worst year ever experienced at the studio.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C-
Pete’s Dragon appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The film never looked good on video, but the Blu-ray rectified that situation.
Sharpness was surprisingly good. A few slightly soft elements appeared, but those remained in the minority. The vast majority of the flick offered very nice delineation. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and edge enhancement remained absent. If any digital noise reduction was used, it was minor, as the movie came with light but noticeable grain. No print flaws popped up here; this was a clean image.
Colors were usually quite nice. Elliott could look a little pale at times – almost certainly an artifact of the photographic styles involved – but in general, the hues seemed lively and dynamic. Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows displayed nice clarity and delineation. Some “day for night” shots could be a bit thick, but those were inevitable. Objectively, I saw enough concerns to knock down my grade to a "B+”, but make no mistake: this was by far the best the film has ever looked.
I also felt pretty pleased with the remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Pete’s Dragon. Not surprisingly, the audio stayed mainly in the forward spectrum. Stereo separation largely affected the music, which displayed nice breadth across the front speakers. I also heard minor localization of some ambient sounds; nothing blended together terrifically well, but the side channels displayed some mild effects.
The surrounds were minor partners and they offered mostly general reinforcement of the music and effects; they contributed an acceptably nice atmosphere but didn’t really add much to the experience. A few scenes were a bit more involving, though, and some of Elliott’s antics made decent use of the back channels. The soundscape remained forward-oriented, but it still seemed pretty good overall.
Audio quality was dated but acceptable. Dialogue could be somewhat flat and thin, but I noticed no edginess and the lines remained intelligible. Effects displayed similar qualities, but at least they sounded clean and fairly realistic, and they lacked notable distortion. Music fared nicely, as the movie’s tunes came across as bright and bouncy. The score also displayed some modest bass, as did a few of Elliott’s more guttural vocalizations. This was never a great track, but it was fine given its age.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the last DVD from 2009? Audio showed a more involving soundfield and better impact; the DTS-HD track didn’t blow away the old Dolby Digital one, but it seemed more satisfying.
The image was the more notable improvement, though. The Blu-ray offered radical improvements in definition, cleanliness, color reproduction, blacks – you name it. The prior DVD versions of Dragon tended to be somewhat ugly, but this was a borderline stunning visual presentation – at least given what we’d seen from the film in the past.
The Blu-ray includes some – but not all – of the 2009 DVD’s extras. Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney’s Movie Magic runs 25 minutes, 25 seconds as it presents comments from actor Sean Marshall. He narrates a look at how films have allowed humans and cartoons to interact over the decades before we see specifics about the Dragon shoot. Along with Marshall’s narration, we get some archival comments from Walt Disney, actress Virginia Davis, and Disney chairman emeritus Roy E. Disney.
It’s too bad we don’t hear from a wider variety of participants, but “Magic” offers a fun look at the flick anyway. I like the overview of effects evolution, and Marshall also gives us some good notes about working on the film. We find a nice take on the project in this tight, enjoyable piece.
Next comes a Deleted Storyboard Sequence. “Terminus and Hoagy Hunt Elliott” lasts two minutes, 27 seconds as it shows a story reel for a cut scene. The title describes the action, and the segment doesn’t add much to the experience.
More unused material comes to us via an Original Song Concept. “Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You Too)” goes for two minutes, 36 seconds as it offers a pop/rock version of the tune. It sounds more like something from a Monkees album than the even more sickly-sweet movie version. We see storyboards along with the audio.
A few ads launch the disc. We get promos for Cinderella and Wreck-It Ralph. These also pop up under Sneak Peeks along with clips for Disney Parks, Sofia the First, Peter Pan, Secret of the Wings, Brave, the direct to video Cinderella sequels, Finding Nemo and Planes. We find two trailers for Dragon as well.
A second disc offers a DVD copy of the film. This is a retail version with the same bonus materials found on the Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray drops many materials from the 2009 DVD. It loses “Original Demo Recordings”, songs from a “Promotional Record”, the “Where’s Elliott?” game, art galleries, two short TV clips, a classic animated short, and text production notes. We also continue to lack “Man, Monsters, and Mysteries”, a 25-minute and 15-second program from 1977 that appeared on the original DVD from 2001.
As a movie, Pete’s Dragon is a dud. In addition to an annoying cast, it offers a dull and predictable tale that features virtually no spark or energy. The Blu-ray delivers borderline excellent visuals along with pretty good audio and a minor complement of supplements. Fans will feel disappointed that the Blu-ray drops some of the old bonus materials, but they’ll be blown away with the picture quality.
To rate this film, visit the High-Flying Edition review of PETE'S DRAGON