Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Don Chaffey|
|Produced by||Jerome Courtland
Ron W. Miller
|Screenplay by||Malcolm Marmorstein|
|Story by||S.S. Field
Seton Miller (short story)
|Music by||Joel Hirschhorn
Al Kasha (Songs)
|Editing by||Gordon D. Brenner|
|Studio||Walt Disney Productions|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution Company|
|Running time||134 min. (original roadshow release)|
Pete's Dragon is a 1977 live-action/animated musical film from Walt Disney Productions and the first Disney film to be recorded in the Dolby Stereo sound system. It is a live-action film but its title character, a dragon named Elliott, is animated. The story is about a young orphan named Pete who enters the town of Passamaquoddy a small fishing community in Northeastern Maine. His only friend is a dragon named Elliott, who also acts as his protector and can make himself invisible and is generally visible only to Pete, which occasionally lands Pete in trouble with the locals. Also starring Helen Reddy, Mickey Rooney, Jim Dale, Red Buttons, Jeff Conaway, and Shelley Winters. The film was directed by Don Chaffey, and the songs are by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn.
The song "Candle on the Water" received an Academy Award nomination, but lost to "You Light Up My Life" from the film of the same title. Reddy's recording (with a different arrangement than the one her character sings in the film) was released as a single by Capitol Records, reaching #27 on the Adult Contemporary charts. The movie also received a nomination for Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Adaptation Score, losing to A Little Night Music.
In the early 20th century, a young dusty-haired orphan named Pete is fleeing his abusive adoptive hillbilly family, the Gogans. As Lena Gogan and company pursue him ("The Happiest Home in These Hills"), an unseen force, which Pete calls Elliott (silent), knocks the Gogans into a mud pit. Lena, her husband "Merle (silent)", and their sons Grover and "Willie (silent)" are determined to find Pete because, in Lena's own words, "We paid $50 for that kid, and we ain't got fifty more." The lazy, inept and constantly bickering Grover and Willie are told by their equally lazy parents that if they don't get Pete back, the boys will have to work the farm.
The next morning, Pete and Elliott, revealed to be a green and pink animated dragon who also has the power of invisibility, share breakfast ("Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You, Too)") and decide to visit Passamaquoddy, a nearby village where the unseen Elliott, performing clumsy antics, causes Pete to be labeled a source of ill luck and must flee. Lampie, the drunken old lighthouse keeper, stumbles out of a tavern and encounters Pete. A mischievous Elliott makes himself visible to him and a terrified Lampie runs into the bar to warn the townsfolk ("I Saw a Dragon"). His capable daughter, Nora takes him back to their home, the local lighthouse, settles him down, and puts him to bed. Meanwhile, in a seaside cave, Pete scolds Elliott for causing trouble. Just as the two make up, Nora appears, having spotted Pete earlier. She offers Pete shelter and they talk ("It's Not Easy"). Pete is inquisitive and soon learns the story of Nora's fiancé, Paul, whose ship was reported lost at sea the previous year. Pete promises to ask Elliott about Paul and Nora accepts, believing Elliott to be an imaginary friend.
The next morning, Doc Terminus, a medicine showman, and his shill, Hoagy, haphazardly arrive and manage to win over the gullible townspeople, who are initially angered by their return ("Passamasloddy"). That evening Pete visits Elliot and Nora thanks her father for pretending that the dragon exists. Lampie insists he actually saw a dragon and Nora tells him to be realistic, to which her father retorts that her hoping for Paul’s return is just as ridiculous. Lampie apologizes for his outburst and excuses himself, giving Nora time to think ("Candle on the Water"). At the tavern, Lampie tells Terminus and Hoagy about the dragon. Terminus dismisses the tale, but Hoagy agrees to go to the cave. After an encounter with Elliott, Hoagy offers the dragon some liquor as a gesture of peace, which triggers a fiery belch that chases the pair away. The local fishermen complain about the recent scarcity of fish and believe Pete is the cause. Nora reminds them the fishing grounds shift, and that Pete should be welcomed in town ("There's Room for Everyone"). Nora takes Pete to school, where Pete is punished unfairly by the strict teacher as a result of Elliott's antics. An enraged Elliott smashes into the building.
Terminus, now convinced of Elliot's existence and having learned that dragon anatomy has many medicinal uses ("Every Little Piece'"), makes Pete an offer for Elliott, which Pete refuses. Later, Pete accepts Nora and Lampie's offer to stay with them permanently ("Brazzle Dazzle Day"). The Gogans arrive in town and confront them ("Bill of Sale"), only to be firmly defied by Nora and thwarted by Elliott. Terminus makes a deal with the Gogans and convinces the superstitious locals that helping him capture the dragon will solve their problems. That evening, a storm begins to blow. Pete tries to tell Nora the good news that Elliott has located Paul. However Nora, still believing that Pete has imagined Elliott, replies that Pete has no more need to believe in him. Even Lampie begins to doubt that he saw a dragon. Undeterred, Pete helps Nora prepare the lighthouse for the storm.
Out at sea, a sailing ship is approaching Passamaquoddy, its captain assisted by Paul. Terminus lures Pete to the town's boathouse, while Hoagie does the same to Elliott. At the boathouse, the invisible Elliott discovers Pete, but is caught in an immense net. Elliott frees himself and saves Pete from the Gogans before they can escape. He incinerates their bill of sale (their only piece of evidence that shows that they own Pete), then douses them all with a barrel of tar before chasing them off. As Pete and Elliott celebrate, Terminus aims a harpoon gun at the distracted dragon, but the harpoon's rope is looped around his ankle and he is sent flying through the ceiling. After rebuking Terminus and Hoagie, Elliott saves the mayor and other dignitaries from a falling utility pole, revealing himself to the grateful townsfolk. Back at the lighthouse, the lamp has been extinguished by a storm-driven wave. Elliott returns and tries to light the lamp with his own fire. As he is doing so, Nora finally sees that Elliott is real. After several failures, due to the damp wick and the fact that Elliott's esophagus is squeezed into the lighthouse steps, the light is finally ignited and the ship is saved.
The next morning the townsfolk praise Elliott for his help and Nora is reunited with Paul who, it turns out, was the sole survivor of a shipwreck at Cape Hatteras, but he suffered total amnesia due to his ordeal. Then, one day recently, his bed suddenly tipped over (courtesy of an invisible Elliott); Paul bumped his head and regained his memory. Sadly, now that Pete is safe and has a loving family of his own, Elliott reveals that he must move on to help other children. Pete says his goodbyes to Elliott who happily flies off, with Pete happily reminding him to "stay invisible".
- Charlie Callas (voice) as Elliott the dragon
- Sean Marshall as Pete, an orphan boy whom the Gogans treat like a slave
- Helen Reddy as Nora, Lampie's headstrong but kind daughter
- Mickey Rooney as Lampie, Passamaquoddy's lighthouse keeper and Nora's father
- Jim Dale as Dr. Terminus, a scheming quack
- Red Buttons as Hoagy, Terminus' sidekick
- Shelley Winters as Lena Gogan, the matriarch of the Gogans
- Charles Tyner as Merle Gogan, Lena's husband
- Gary Morgan and Jeff Conaway as Grover and Willie Gogan, Lena and Merle's adult sons
- Cal Bartlett as Paul, Nora's fiancé
- Walter Barnes as the Captain of the ship on which Paul returns home
- Jane Kean as Miss Abbey Taylor, a cruel schoolteacher
- Jim Backus as the mayor of Passamaquoddy
Al Checco, Henry Slate, and Jack Collins appear in the film as local fishermen. Robert Easton plays a store proprietor in Passamaquoddy, and Roger Price is seen as a man with a visor. Robert Foulk plays an old sea captain. Ben Wrigley is the egg man and Joe Ross plays the cement man. Dinah Anne Rogers has an uncredited role as one of the townspeople, as does Dennis Stewart, who plays a fisherman, and Debbie Fresh is also uncredited as a "Child / Dancer / Singer".
Musical numbers 
- "Main Title"
- "The Happiest Home in These Hills" - Lena, Merle, Grover, Willie
- "Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You, Too)" - Pete, Elliott
- "I Saw a Dragon" - Lampie, Nora, Townsmen
- "It's Not Easy" - Nora, Pete
- "Passamaquoddy" - Terminus, Hoagy, Townsfolk
- "Candle on the Water" - Nora
- "There's Room for Everyone" - Nora, Pete, Children
- "Every Little Piece" - Hoagy, Terminus
- "Brazzle Dazzle Day" - Nora, Lampie, Pete
- "Bill of Sale" - Nora, Lena, Merle, Grover, Willie
- "I Saw a Dragon (Reprise)" - Townsmen
- "Brazzle Dazzle Day (Reprise)" - Nora, Lampie, Paul
At the core of Pete's Dragon was an unpublished short story by Hollywood Golden Age writer Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field. The Disney studio acquired the rights to the story in the 1950s with the intent of using it on the Disneyland anthology program. Instead, it was given the full feature film treatment by writer Malcolm Marmorstein, in what remains his biggest undertaking to date. The production was directed by British filmmaker Don Chaffey, who had helmed two smaller films for Disney in the early 1960s in between larger fantasy adventures (Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years B.C.) for others.
The lighthouse for Pete's Dragon was built on a point above Morro Bay, California, substituting for Maine. It was equipped with such a large beacon that Disney had to get special permission from the Coast Guard to operate it, since operating it during filming would have confused passing ships.
The animators of Pete's Dragon opted to make Elliott look more like an oriental, rather than occidental, dragon because oriental dragons are usually associated with good. The film is the first involving animation in which none of the Nine Old Men — Disney's original team of animators — were involved. One technique used in the movie involved compositing with a sodium screen, whereby up to three scenes might be composited together — for example, a live foreground, a live background, and an animated middle ground containing Elliott. Ken Anderson, who created Elliott, explained that he thought it would be appropriate to make Elliott "a little paunchy" and not always particularly graceful when it comes to flying. Don Hahn, who was assistant director to Don Bluth on this film, gained some experience working with a combination of live-action and animation before later going on to work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The film was successful to some degree; in 1978, Pete's Dragon was ranked at seventeen on Variety's hit list. Thomas J. Harris, in Children’s Live-Action Musical Films: A Critical Survey and Filmography, heavily criticizes the story as well as the compositing of the animated Elliott; he also found the "Mary Poppinsish ending" to be "thoroughly unmotivated", because Pete's life before meeting Elliott is never fleshed out. In 2006, Elliott was ranked no. 5 on a top 10 list of movie dragons by Karl Heitmueller for MTV Movie News.
Critic Leonard Maltin observed that Disney Studios made several attempts to recreate the appeal and success of Mary Poppins (1964), and that this was one of their least successful endeavors. However, he added that it might please children.
Pete's Dragon currently has a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 50%.
Awards and honors 
- Academy Awards
- Academy Award for Best Original Song - Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn for "Candle on the Water"
- Academy Award for Original Song Score - Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn and Irwin Kostal
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Awards
- Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film
- Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor - Red Buttons
- Saturn Award for Best Costume
- Saturn Award for Best Special Effects
- Golden Globes
- Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score - Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
Alternative versions 
- In its original roadshow theatrical release, the film ran 134 minutes. Shortly after, the film was edited down to 121 minutes. The most notable change was an alternative version of the musical number "I Saw a Dragon". The version most watched today is different from the one that was seen in the premiere version.
- In 1980, Pete's Dragon was the first Disney feature film to be released on VHS and Betamax with a running time of 121 minutes. It was only available for a very short time.
- When the film was re-released to theaters in March 1984, it was cut again from 121 minutes to 104 minutes. When re-issued on home video in December 1985, the film was restored considerably to 128 minutes. However, there have been VHS copies spotted on eBay with the 1980 packaging and a run time of 128 minutes.
- When the film was shown on TV, it was severely edited and time-compressed to 92 minutes, eliminating the "Candle on the Water" number.
- A 128-minute version, just six minutes shorter than the original roadshow edition, was released on DVD in 2002, again in 2009 as the "High-Flying Edition" and a 35th anniversary edition on Blu-ray in 2012.
In March 2013, Disney announced a "reboot" of Pete's Dragon, to be written by David Lowery from the Sundance hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. The new film will "reinvent the core story of a venerable Disney family film. It will not be a musical and at this point Lowery is just engaged as writer."
- "Pete's Dragon, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
- Kyse, B. (1976, August 2). San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune: Mouse shoots dragan. Retrieved on February 13, 2010 from http://sloblogs.thetribunenews.com/slovault/files/2009/03/dragon.jp
- "Full Cast and Crew for Pete's Dragon". IMDb.com, Inc. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
- Pete's Dragon. Bonus Features: Film Facts (DVD). Disney Enterprises (distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment).
- "Where is the lighthouse from Pete's Dragon located?" http://psc.disney.go.com/guestservices/8740.html#history_archives44
- Pete's Dragon. Bonus Features: "Disney Family Album" (Excerpt) (DVD). Disney Enterprises (distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment).
- Thomlison, Adam. "Q: I saw "Pete's Dragon" for the first time the other day, and I'm wondering how they combined the animation and live-action sequences. How did they make Pete float while Elliott was invisible?". TV Media. Retrieved 2013-01-11.
- Farago, Andrew (2008-11-30). "Roger Rabbit turns 20". Animation World Network. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
- Krämer, Peter. "'The Best Disney Film Disney Never Made': Children's Films and the Family Audience in American Cinemas since the 1960s". In Neale, Steve. Genre And Contemporary Hollywood. London, UK: British Film Institute. p. 189. ISBN 0-85170-887-0.
- Harris, Thomas J. (1989). Children’s Live-Action Musical Films: A Critical Survey and Filmography. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-89950-375-6.
- Heitmueller, Karl (2006-12-12). "Rewind: Dragons Have Breathed Fire In Many Films Besides 'Eragon': Top 10 dragons in filmdom include Haku of 'Spirited Away,' Maleficent in 'Sleeping Beauty,' Ghidorah of 'Godzilla' fame.". MTV Movie News. MTV Networks. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- Maltin, Leonard (1999). Leonard Maltin's Family Film Guide. New York: Signet. p. 437. ISBN 0-451-19714-3.
- "Awards for Pete's Dragon". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
- "Pete's Dragon (1977)". Variety. Retrieved 2009-11-08.[dead link]
- "After Gritty Sundance Debut On ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’, David Lowery To Reinvent ‘Pete’s Dragon’ For Disney." Deadline.com (March 19, 2013).
- Pete's Dragon at the Internet Movie Database
- Pete's Dragon at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Pete's Dragon at AllRovi
- Pete's Dragon at Box Office Mojo
- Pete's Dragon at Rotten Tomatoes
- Pete's Dragon at UltimateDisney.com
- Detailed info on Pete's Dragon including Don Bluth's involvement