Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Don Chaffey (live action)
Don Bluth (animation)
|Produced by||Jerome Courtland
|Screenplay by||Malcolm Marmorstein|
|Story by||S.S. Field
Seton Miller (short story)
|Music by||Joel Hirschhorn
Al Kasha (Songs)
|Edited by||Gordon D. Brenner|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
|134 minutes (1977 original version)
104 minutes (1984 reissue version)
129 minutes (2002 DVD version)
Pete's Dragon is a 1977 live-action and animated musical film from Walt Disney Productions. It is a live-action film but one of its title characters, 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 on Passamaquoddy Bay in southeastern 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. The film also stars 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 1900s, a young orphan named Pete flees 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, knocks them into a mud pit. The next morning, Pete and Elliott, a green and purple dragon who has the power of invisibility, share breakfast ("I Love You, Too") and visit Passamaquoddy, a village where the unseen Elliott, performing clumsy antics, causes Pete to be labeled a source of ill luck. Lampie, the drunken old lighthouse keeper, stumbles out of a tavern and encounters Pete. A mischievous Elliott makes himself visible, and a terrified Lampie runs into the saloon to warn the townsfolk ("I Saw a Dragon"). In a seaside cave, Pete scolds Elliott for causing trouble. Just as they make up, Lampie's daughter Nora appears, having spotted Pete earlier. She says that due to the ongoing tides from the sea, that it's unsafe for Pete to stay, thus leaving Elliott to remain there. She offers him shelter at the lighthouse, and they talk ("It's Not Easy"). Pete 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, Dr. Terminus, a medicine showman, and his shill, Hoagy, arrive and win over the gullible townspeople, who are initially angered by their return ("Passamashloddy"). That evening, Nora sings ("Candle on the Water") to her lost lover. The local fishermen complain about the 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 him to school, where he is punished unfairly by Miss Taylor, the strict teacher, as a result of Elliott's antics. An enraged Elliott smashes into the schoolhouse.
Dr. Terminus, now convinced of Elliot's existence and knowing that dragon anatomy has medicinal uses ("Every Little Piece'"), makes Pete an offer for Elliott, which he refuses. Later, he accepts Nora and Lampie's offer to live with them ("Brazzle Dazzle Day"). The Gogans arrive in town and confront them ("Bill of Sale"), only to be defied by Nora and thwarted by Elliott. Dr. 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 that Elliott has located Paul. However, she still believes that he has imagined Elliott.
Out at sea, a sailing ship is approaching Passamaquoddy, its captain assisted by Paul. Dr. Terminus lures Pete to the boathouse, while Hoagy does the same to Elliott. Once there, the invisible Elliott discovers Pete but is caught in an immense net. He frees himself and saves Pete, then confronts the Gogans who try to flee in their wagon. Lena Gogan yells at Elliott, showing him her Bill of Sale, which he promptly lights on fire, before dumping her into a vat of tar, after which he scares the Gogans' horse which takes off, leaving the Gogans behind to chase after it.
While Pete and Elliot laugh at the retreating Gogans, Terminus, still desperate to capture Elliott, attempts to shoot him with a harpoon, but fails to notice the rope attached to the spear is snagged around his ankle. Hoagy spots it and tries to warn the Doc, who panics and points the harpoon skyward, which fires the harpoon through the ceiling of the warehouse, taking the Doc with it, who screams a "Goofy Laugh" as he goes through the roof, finally landing on a utility pole next to his wind wagon. Hoagy attempts to free the now upside-down Terminus, but Elliott shows up, growls at them, and completely destroys the wind wagon, cutting off their escape. Elliott then saves the Mayor, Miss Taylor, the sheriff, and other town council 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 it with his own fire. As he is doing so, Nora sees that he is real. The light is finally ignited, and the ship is saved. Although Terminus and Hoagy are never seen again for the rest of the film, and had no escape since Elliott trashed their wagon, it is assumed that the sheriff arrested them shortly after Elliott revealed himself to the townsfolk.
The next morning, the townsfolk praise Elliott for his help, and Nora reunites with Paul, who was the sole survivor of a shipwreck at Cape Hatteras and suffered amnesia. Now that Pete is safe and has a loving family, Elliott reveals to Pete that he must move on to help another kid in trouble. He says goodbye to Pete and happily flies away 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 have purchased and treat like a slave
- Mickey Rooney as Lampie, Passamaquoddy's lighthouse keeper and Nora's father
- Helen Reddy as Nora, Lampie's headstrong but kind daughter who later adopts Pete
- Jim Dale as Dr. Terminus, a scheming quack
- Red Buttons as Hoagy, Dr. 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 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 Taylor, the 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".
- "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" - Dr. Terminus, Hoagy, Townsfolk
- "Candle on the Water" - Nora
- "There's Room for Everyone" - Nora, Pete, Children
- "Every Little Piece" - Hoagy, Dr. 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)" - Pete, Nora, Lampie, Paul
At the core of the film 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 the film was built on Point Buchon Trail located south of Los Osos, 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 doing so during filming would have confused passing ships. Pacific Gas and Electric opened the Point Buchon Trail and allows hikers access to where filming took place.
The animators of the film 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 vapor process, 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.
Pete's Dragon received mixed to positive reviews. The film was successful to some degree; in 1978, it 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 made several attempts to recreate the appeal and success of Mary Poppins (1964), and that Pete's Dragon did not come close on that score. However, he added that it might please children, and that "the animated title character is so endearing that it almost compensates for the live actors' tiresome mugging."
The film 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 and 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
- In its original roadshow theatrical release, the film ran 134 minutes. Shortly after, it was edited down to 121 minutes. The most notable change was an alternative version of the song "I Saw a Dragon". The version most watched today is different from the one that was seen in the premiere version.
- In 1980, the film was the first Disney feature 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 rereleased to theaters in March 1984, it was cut again from 121 minutes to 104 minutes. When reissued on home video in December 1985, it 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 129-minute version, just five 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 the film to be written by David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks from the Sundance hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It will reinvent the core story of a venerable Disney family film and will not be a musical. Principal photography commenced in January 2015 in New Zealand, with Lowery directing. It has an August 12, 2016 release date.
- "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).
- 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).
- "Casting call for Disney feature film Pete’s Dragon lead role."
- Pedersen, Erik (January 15, 2015). "Disney Dates 'Ghost In The Shell', Moves Jungle Book Back 6 Months". Deadline.
- Official website
- Pete's Dragon at the Internet Movie Database
- Pete's Dragon at the TCM Movie Database
- Pete's Dragon at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Pete's Dragon at AllMovie
- 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