Pete's Dragon

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This article is about the original 1977 film. For the 2016 remake, see Pete's Dragon (2016 film).
Pete's Dragon
Petes Dragon movie poster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced by
Screenplay by Malcolm Marmorstein
Story by S.S. Field
Seton Miller (short story)
Music by
Cinematography Frank Phillips
Edited by Gordon D. Brenner
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • November 3, 1977 (1977-11-03)
Running time
  • Original release:
  • 134 minutes
  • 1984 reissue:
  • 104 minutes
  • 2002 DVD release:
  • 129 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million
Box office $36 million[1]

Pete's Dragon is a 1977 American live-action/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 eastern 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.[2]

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. 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. She says that due to the ongoing tides from the sea, it's unsafe for Pete to stay. She offers him food and shelter at the lighthouse, which Pete accepts. Pete tells Nora of the abuse he suffers at the hands of the Gogans and, as Nora offers to let him stay the night at the lighthouse, they strike up a friendship ("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, 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. Believing he needs to stop running from the Gogans, Nora and Lampie offer to let Pete live with them permanently, which Pete accepts ("Brazzle Dazzle Day"). However, the Gogans arrive in town and confront them, demanding that Nora and Lampie surrender Pete and threatening legal action if they refuse ("Bill of Sale"). Nora refuses to hand Pete over and, as the Gogans attempt to chase them in a small boat, Elliot "torpedoes" their boat, saving Pete. Dr. Terminus offers to help the Gogans capture Pete if they use him as bait so Terminus can capture Elliot, which they humorously agree to, despite not believing Elliot to be real. Terminus also convinces the superstitious locals that helping him capture the dragon will solve their problems. That evening, a storm begins to blow.

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 a net. He frees himself and saves Pete, then confronts the Gogans, who flee in their wagon. Lena Gogan yells at Elliott, showing him her Bill of Sale, which he lights on fire before dumping her into a vat of tar, after which he scares the Gogans' horse, which takes off, leaving the Gogans to chase it.

Terminus attempts to shoot Elliott with a harpoon but fails to notice that the rope attached to the spear is snagged around his ankle. Hoagy 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. Hoagy attempts to free Terminus, but Elliott 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 rogue wave. Elliott returns and tries to light it with his own fire. As he does, Nora sees that he is real. The light is ignited, and the ship is saved.

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 has a loving family, Elliott tells him that he must move on to help another kid in trouble, and the two part.


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".[3]

Musical numbers[edit]

  1. "The Happiest Home in These Hills" - Lena, Merle, Grover, Willie
  2. "Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You, Too)" - Pete, Elliott
  3. "I Saw a Dragon" - Lampie, Nora, Townsmen
  4. "It's Not Easy" - Nora, Pete
  5. "Passamaquoddy" - Dr. Terminus, Hoagy, Townsfolk
  6. "Candle on the Water" - Nora
  7. "There's Room for Everyone" - Nora, Pete, Children
  8. "Every Little Piece" - Hoagy, Dr. Terminus
  9. "Brazzle Dazzle Day" - Nora, Lampie, Pete
  10. "Bill of Sale" - Nora, Lena, Merle, Grover, Willie
  11. "I Saw a Dragon (Reprise)" - Townsmen
  12. "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.[4] 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,[4] 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.[5][6] 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.[7]


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.[8] 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.[9] In 2006, Elliott was ranked no. 5 on a top 10 list of movie dragons by Karl Heitmueller for MTV Movie News.[10]

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."[11]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 48% approval score based on 23 reviews, with an average rating of 4.8/10. The site's consensus states: "Boring and slow, this is a lesser Disney work, though the animation isn't without its charms."[12]

Awards and honors[edit]

Academy Awards

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:[13][14]

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films Awards

The film was nominated for four Saturn Awards:[13]

Golden Globes

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated the film for one Golden Globe Award:[13]

Alternative versions[edit]

  • 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 theatrically re-released 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.[15] Principal photography commenced in January 2015 in New Zealand, with Lowery directing. It has an August 12, 2016 release date.[16][17]


  1. ^ "Pete's Dragon, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 29, 2012. 
  2. ^ Kyse, B. (1976, August 2). San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune: Mouse shoots dragan. Retrieved on February 13, 2010 from
  3. ^ "Full Cast and Crew for Pete's Dragon"., Inc. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  4. ^ a b Pete's Dragon. Bonus Features: Film Facts (DVD). Disney Enterprises (distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment). 
  5. ^ Pete's Dragon. Bonus Features: "Disney Family Album" (Excerpt) (DVD). Disney Enterprises (distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment). 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Farago, Andrew (2008-11-30). "Roger Rabbit turns 20". Animation World Network. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Harris, Thomas J. (1989). Children’s Live-Action Musical Films: A Critical Survey and Filmography. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-89950-375-6. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Maltin, Leonard (1999). Leonard Maltin's Family Film Guide. New York: Signet. p. 437. ISBN 0-451-19714-3. 
  12. ^ "Pete's Dragon (1977)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved April 28, 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c "Awards for Pete's Dragon". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  14. ^ "Pete's Dragon (1977)". Variety. Retrieved 2009-11-08. [dead link]
  15. ^ "After Gritty Sundance Debut On ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’, David Lowery To Reinvent ‘Pete’s Dragon’ For Disney." (March 19, 2013).
  16. ^ "Casting call for Disney feature film Pete’s Dragon lead role."
  17. ^ Pedersen, Erik (January 15, 2015). "Disney Dates 'Ghost In The Shell', Moves Jungle Book Back 6 Months". Deadline. 

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