Friday, August 12, 2016

Movie Review: Pete's Dragon (1977)

Pete's Dragon (1977) directed by Don Chaffey

Pete is your standard Disney orphan from the 1970s. He's been bought from an orphanage by a horrible family, the Gogans, who want Pete to do all the chores. He escapes them thanks to help from his invisible pet, a dragon. Pete and the dragon flee to Passamaquoddy, a New England seaside fishing village. The invisible dragon blunders around a bit when they walk through town. The destruction is naturally blamed on Pete. Pete is befriended by Nora (Helen Ready), the lighthouse keeper's daughter (though she seems to do most of the work). Lampie (Mickey Rooney) is the keeper, though he also is the town drunk and his claims to have seen Pete's dragon are benignly ignored. The next day, Doctor Terminus (Jim Dale) arrives. He's a quack doctor selling miracle cures. He finds out about the dragon, is eventually convinced it's real, and decides to seize the dragon to use various body parts for real quack medicine. Plenty of opportunities for conflicts, comedy, and cinematic magic ensue. Along with a bunch of musical numbers!

The special effects blending the live action with the animated dragon are impressive considering it's a 40-year old movie (it came out the same year as the original Star Wars movie!). The actors put their heart into it but the script isn't quite strong enough to allow for great performances. The songs and dance numbers felt more like Hello, Dolly! than like a seaside musical, so it doesn't quite match up tonally. For an adult, some of the plot points and details are lazily glossed over, but I don't think kids would notice.

This is a typical Disney blend of live action and animation. It's no Mary Poppins, it is more like Bedknobs and Broomsticks--a perfectly fine way to spend two hours.

This year's remake looks a lot more impressive in the special effects department, and the makers have dropped the musical numbers:

I'm not sure about Pete as Tarzan of the Northwest, especially after the real Tarzan movie performed so mediocrely. The story is so different that I am curious about the source material and what's in  the original story. According to Wikipedia, the story by Seton I. Miller was an unpublished short story. Bummer! If the kids want to see this, I will gladly take them.

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