Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Reel Snippet Classic – Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Summary: Pete (Sean Marshall) is a young orphan with a big secret: a dragon named Elliot (Charlie Callas) that can turn invisible. After Elliot helps him escape from the Gogans, his cruel adopted family, the two make their way to the small coastal town of Passamaquoddy, Maine. After accidentally causing some trouble, Pete befriends the kindly lighthouse keeper Nora (Helen Reddy) and her slightly alcoholic father Lampie (Mickey Rooney). They let him stay while Elliot keeps an eye on him from a nearby cave and Pete starts to truly find a home there. But things change when a snake oil salesman by the name of Doc Terminus (Jim Dale) and his assistant Hoagy (Red Buttons) roll into town and hear word of the dragon, thinking they might be able to profit off of him. Of course, that’s going to be an uphill battle against Pete’s spirit and his ironclad friendship with his lovable dragon.

Review: Pete’s Dragon (1977) was a perfectly charming movie and a great reminder of Disney’s mid-century works. It’s not a particularly complex movie — the heroes are pure and kind and the villains are vile and nasty — but it doesn’t need to be. An innocent story about a young lad and his guardian dragon can just be simple wish fulfillment and this movie has that in spades. It’s like Oliver Twist with dragons in it… as well as less prostitutes and murder.

This is the kind of family film that decides to abandon logic at times and I’m not talking about the big questions like “why did Elliot come to Pete and how did he get his magic powers?” It’s more like little details that might make people pause like, “Why does Nora go from being manhandled to happily dancing on a spinning barrel?” or “Why does the town of Passamaquoddy have a net and pulley trap to save Doc Terminus and his assistant from being launched into the water?” I don’t know and I don’t need to know. It’s like a stage musical on screen, with props, situations, and plot details to fit the music and hijinks. It actually reminds me of Oklahoma, what with the hillbillies with impeccable dancing skills.

It’s definitely a character driven story rather than a plot driven one, so it’s lucky that the characters are quite good. While they’re all charming (or charmingly despicable) in their own way, a true standout is Nora, who has a magnetic on-screen presence and a beautiful singing voice. Also worth mentioning is Lampie, who may be mugging to the high heavens, but Mickey Rooney’s performance is so compelling that it just works. Of course, I can’t forget to mention Dr. Terminus himself, where Jim Dale pulls off a perfect swindling slimeball with an articulation and style that’s just delightful.

And, of course, I can’t end without mentioning the titular dragon himself, Elliot. The cartoon dragon is very well animated and has the distinct style of the legendary Don Bluth (if the name isn’t familiar, you should know that he made An American Tale, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and many other animated films that defined childhoods and broke hearts). The animation blends pretty seemlessly with the live action footage, though there are some spots that look a little awkward. Also awkward are some of his movements, almost as if they’re too fluid, but thankfully not all of them.

If I had one very minor complaint, most of the songs aren’t very memorable. With the exceptions of “It’s Not Easy” and the Oscar-nominated “Candle on the Water,” I have to be reminded in some way of how the songs went. Still, kind of hard to hold anything against such a charming movie and I’m glad I saw it. If you have children or are a child at heart, give it a watch. Of course, now that I’ve seen this, I may have to see the 2017 remake to see how it holds up…

Fun Tidbit: There’s a rather humorous scene where Lampie and Hoagy stumble drunkenly into Elliot’s cave to try and find him. This scene was totally improvised with each comedian trying to outdo the other in terms of lines and slapstick.

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