Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Directed by: Don Chaffey

Written by: Malcolm Marmorstein

Based on short story by: Seton I. Miller/S.S. Field



I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: This movie really isn’t very good. It’s two hours and eight minutes, and that’s probably about 45 minutes too long. At least.

Pete (Sean Marshall) is an orphan who was bought by a bunch of inbred, backwoods folks led by Shelley Winters. (Jeff Conaway from Taxi and Grease is one of her sons.) They have a bill of sale! And they sing a song about roasting him. So not only are the slavers, but they’re cannibals.

Pete gets away with the help of his invisible buddy, the Snuffleupagus. I mean, Elliott, the dragon. They make their way to Passamaquoddy (which, somehow, is a real place) and nearly kill the mayor (Jim Backus), a teacher (Jane Kean), and an old rummy named Lampie (Mickey Rooney). So, of course, Elliott has to hide in a cave near the sea.

Enter Dr Terminus and his assistant Hoagy (Jim Dale and Red Buttons). They’re a couple of Trumps, er, snake oil salesmen. When they find out about the dragon they see dollar signs.

Lampie, it turns out, has a daughter named Nora (Helen Reddy). She finds Pete and quickly adopts him.

Chaos ensues when all of these people convene. So do mediocre songs just about every six minutes.

Oh, look. It’s another live-action Disney movie with animated bits where a magical character makes the life of a child better by being magical. Then that character says, “I’m Mary Poppins, so it’s time to leave!”

This is one of those movies that I completely understand why they decided that it was time for a remake of. It’s long, kinda boring and basically forgettable, but the premise seems like something that could be awesome. The only way to go was up. (And I hear they did. I haven’t seen the remake, yet, but it’s apparently really, really good.)

The only song that anyone remembers from this movie is “Candle On The Water,” and it was cut out of some TV versions. That means that, if you watched it on TV, you remember absolutely nothing about it!

This is Don Bluth’s second Disney feature as a lead animator and you can really see his influence on the character design. Elliott would fit right in to Dragon’s Lair six years later. (Of course, he also looks kind of like Madame Mim when she turned into a dragon in Sword In The Stone.)

This is also the first Disney film to not be worked on by one of the Nine Old Men. So, there’s that. That could be a reason for its “quality.”

I dunno. Elliott is kinda charming. Kids probably loved him in the 70s. And it was fun to make jokes about Helen Reddy. (“Come on, Pete. It’s you and me against the world!”) But, overall, this is just not good.