Whether they fall under the category of beloved classics or are among the lesser celebrated films in Disney's vast catalog, there are some Disney movies that stay with us for a lifetime. The live-action/animated musical Pete's Dragon is one of those films for me. Revisiting the film for the first time as an adult, I was curious to see if Pete's Dragon held up on Blu-ray as well as it did in my memory. For the most part, it does.
Directed by Don Chaffey and released in 1977, Pete's Dragon is set at some point in the earlier part of the 1900s and stars Sean Marshall as Pete, a young orphaned boy who enters the story on the run from an adoptive family of dirty, yellow-teethed, abusive adults called the Gogans. With the help of his trusted dragon Elliott, he escapes them and comes across the picturesque seaside village of Passamaquoddy, a fictional town set in Maine. Though he doesn't make the best entrance into the town, disrupting the peaceful village--thanks in large part to the invisible Elliott's clumsiness--he crosses paths with Nora (Helen Reddy), the daughter of Lampie (Mickey Rooney), the town lighthouse keeper who likes his drink. Nora lets Pete stay with them, believing that Pete's story about a dragon is made up. Lampie knows otherwise, as he comes face to face with Elliott early on.
Pete and Elliott aren't the only ones making a splash in Passamaquoddy. Also new in town are Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and Hoagy (Red Buttons), a duo of schemers who have arrived in town peddling some phony tonic. When Terminus learns of Elliott's existence, he's determined to get his hands on the dragon, believing he can make a fortune cutting him up and selling him for parts. Meanwhile, the Gogans are still hot on Pete's trail and determined to get him back.
Films have a tendency to change for us in varying degrees as we grow from childhood to adulthood and our perspectives evolve. As a child, Pete's Dragon was a fun musical about a kid who was lucky enough to have a cartoon dragon for a friend. I remember thinking Pete was like a male version of Little Orphan Annie, living a carefree existence, singing songs with his dragon and having the good fortune to find a perfect little town where he eventually gets to live in a lighthouse. I don't think it fully registered that - like Annie - Pete was an abused orphan. He'd probably been mistreated all his life by the Gogans and whoever came before them.
The movie seems set up to make light of that from the start, as the Gogans, Lena (Shelley Winters), Merle (Charles Tyner), Grover (Gary Morgan) and Willie (Jeff Conaway), pursue Pete and continuously fall goofily on their faces in their efforts. Keeping the tone light is fine, as it's a kid's movie. But, as an adult, the severity of that situation adds a layer of depth to the story that I couldn't appreciate as a child. Dr. Terminus always seemed like the bigger threat, with his sinister plans to exploit Elliott. But watching as an adult, I can't help but feel even fonder of Elliott and his efforts to rescue Pete and deliver him to a better life.
The songs from the film are as great as I remember them, from Pete and Elliott's friendly duet "Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You, Too)" to Lampie's exciting bar song "I Saw A Dragon" and Nora, Lampie and Pete's "Brazzle Dazzle Day." Jim Dale's especially great with his introductory number "Passamaquoddy." There's a stage-like quality to that number that really demonstrates the man's talent and humor.
Pete's Dragon holds up well, touching on a number of issues, including love, companionship and family. With fun songs and a sweet, timeless quality to the story, Pete's Dragon holds up well, even after 35 years. There's definitely a fair amount of nostalgic value with a film like this, not to mention some great talent among the cast that makes the movie well worth revisiting and sharing with the next generation.
Celebrating its 35th anniversary, Pete's Dragon has gotten a "new enhanced" digital restoration for its Blu-ray upgrade. The Pete's Dragon: 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray also features a bonus DVD, although no digital copy, unfortunately. We've seen some amazing technological advancements in the area of combining animation and live-action in feature films. In that respect, the contrast of Elliott's 2D animated state next to a live-action setting is obviously noticeable, but for a movie made in the 70s, the special effects are impressive. Those curious to learn how the film was put together without the use of modern computer technology will appreciate the set's best bonus feature, "Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney's Movie Magic."
The “Brazzle Dazzle Effects" feature has Sean Marshall (Pete) narrating a segment that takes us through Disney's history of combining animation with live-action, from the days of The Three Caballeros and The Song of the South, to more recent examples like Enchanted. It also includes some interesting behind-the- scenes looks at Pete's Dragon's production. The feature pulls back the curtain on the "magic" involved in putting the animated Elliott on screen next to Pete.
Other bonus content includes the "Deleted Storyboard Sequence" that focuses on a scene involving Terminus and Hoagy hunting Elliott, and the original song concept for “Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You, Too)," which allows us to listen to the demo for the signature tune. All of the mentioned features and the trailers are included on the DVD as well.
It looks like all of the bonus content has been recycled from the 2009 High-Flying Edition, so those who already own the movie on DVD won't really benefit from the Blu-ray upgrade when it comes to the bonus features. There aren't any additions or exclusive Blu-ray content, so it seems the sharper picture is the biggest benefit to upgrading to Blu-ray if you already own this on DVD. But for those who haven't purchased it since the days of VHS, the film holds up well and is well worth adding to your collection.