Pete's Dragon (1977 film)

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Pete's Dragon
Petes Dragon movie poster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster
Directed by Don Chaffey
Produced by
Screenplay by Malcolm Marmorstein
Based on "Pete's Dragon"
by Seton I. Miller
S.S. Field
Music by Irwin Kostal
Cinematography Frank Phillips
Edited by Gordon D. Brenner
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • November 3, 1977 (1977-11-03)
Running time
128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million[1]
Box office $36[1]–39.6 million[2]

Pete's Dragon is a 1977 American live-action/animated musical fantasy comedy film directed by Don Chaffey, produced by Jerome Courtland and Ron Miller, and written by Malcolm Marmorstein. It is based on an unpublished short story of the same name, written by classical Hollywood writer Seton I. Miller. It stars Sean Marshall, Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Jeff Conaway, Shelley Winters, and Charlie Callas. It revolves around an orphaned boy raised by an abusive hillbilly family who is friends with a dragon named Elliott.

Upon release, the film was a moderate success, grossing $39 million over a $10 million budget. Its reviews were mixed. 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 name. 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 film also received a nomination for Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Adaptation Score, losing to A Little Night Music.


In the early 1900s, Pete flees the Gogans, his abusive hillbilly foster family, with help from Elliott, a fire-breathing dragon who can make himself invisible.

Pete and Elliott visit Passamaquoddy, where the unseen Elliott's clumsiness causes Pete to be labeled a source of bad luck.

Lampie, the 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. In a seaside cave, Pete scolds Elliott for causing trouble. Just as they make up, Lampie's daughter, Nora, appears saying due to the ongoing tides from the sea, it is unsafe for Pete to stay in there, then offers him food and shelter at the lighthouse, which he accepts.

Pete tells Nora of the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Gogans and, as she offers to let him spend the night at the lighthouse, they strike up a friendship. He learns the story of her fiance, Paul, whose ship was reported lost at sea the year before. He promises to ask Elliott about Paul, and she accepts, believing Elliott to be his imaginary friend.

The next morning, Dr. Terminus and his assistant, Hoagy, arrive and win over the gullible townspeople who are initially angered by their return. The day after, the local fishermen complain about the scarcity of fish and believe Pete is the cause. Nora tells them that the fishing grounds shift from time to time and Pete should be welcomed into town. She takes him to start school, where he is punished unfairly by the teacher, Miss Taylor, as a result of Elliott's antics. An enraged Elliott smashes into the schoolhouse, leaving his shape in the wall, as Pete runs off.

Dr. Terminus makes Pete an offer for Elliott, which he turns down. Believing he needs to stop running from the Gogans, Nora and Lampie offer to let him live with them permanently, which he accepts. When the Gogans arrive in town and demand him back, Nora refuses to hand him over. As the Gogans attempt to chase them in a small boat, Elliott "torpedoes" it, saving Pete.

Dr. Terminus teams up with the Gogans to capture both Pete and Elliott. He also convinces the superstitious locals that helping him capture Elliott will solve their problems. That evening, a storm begins to blow.

At sea, a ship is approaching Passamaquoddy with Paul on board. Dr. Terminus lures Pete to the boathouse, while Hoagy does the same to Elliott. Once there, the invisible Elliott is caught in a net trap, but he frees himself, saves Pete, and confronts the Gogans. Lena yells at him, claiming Pete is their property and waves her bill of sale at him, which he torches. Now completely defenseless, they flee after he frightens them away. Just as he and Pete laugh, Dr. Terminus makes one more effort to harpoon him, but his leg is caught in the rope and he is sent catapulting through the ceiling and screams as he goes through it, ending up dangling upside down near a utility pole. In a last-ditch effort, he tries to offer buying Elliott's "spare parts", to which he declines and proceeds to destroy Dr. Terminus' traveling wagon, ending his scamming business.

Elliott then saves the Mayor, Miss Taylor, and the members of the Town Board from a falling utility pole, revealing himself to them. 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 so, Nora sees that he is real. The light is ignited and the ship is saved.

The next morning, the Mayor and the townsfolk praise Elliott for his help, and Nora is reunited 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 he must move on to help another kid in trouble, and is sad that they must part. Pete comforts Elliott by telling him if that anyone can help that kid, he can. He flies away as Pete and his new family wave good-bye to him. The film ends with Pete reminding him once again he is supposed to be invisible.


  • Sean Marshall as Pete, an orphan boy whom the Gogans have purchased and treat like a slave.
  • Helen Reddy as Nora, Lampie's headstrong but kind daughter who later adopts Pete.
  • Jim Dale as Dr. Terminus, a scheming quack and showman.
  • Mickey Rooney as Lampie, Passamaquoddy's lighthouse keeper and Nora's father.
  • Red Buttons as Hoagy, Dr. Terminus' assistant.
  • Shelley Winters as Lena Gogan, the matriarch of the Gogan family.
  • Jane Kean as Miss Taylor, Passamaquoddy's schoolteacher who reluctantly takes Pete as a student at Nora's suggestion.
  • Jim Backus as the Mayor of Passamaquoddy.
  • Charles Tyner as Merle Gogan, Lena's husband and the patriarch of the Gogan family.
  • Gary Morgan and Jeff Conaway as Grover and Willie Gogan, Lena and Merle's sons.
  • Cal Bartlett as Paul, a sailor who has disappeared at sea and Nora's fiancé
  • Charlie Callas as the voice of Elliott, a dragon that saves Pete from the Gogans.
  • Walter Barnes as the Captain of the ship on which Paul returns home.

Al Checco, Henry Slate, and Jack Collins appear in the film as local fishermen. Robert Easton plays a store proprietor, and Roger Price is seen as a man with a visor. Robert Foulk plays an old sea captain. Ben Wrigley is the egg vendor that Elliott accidentally knocks into the Mayor and Joe Ross plays the cement man whose cement was stepped in by Elliott. Dinah Anne Rogers has an uncredited role as one of the townsfolk, 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



The film was based on 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.

In the 1970s, it was adapted as a full feature film by writer Malcolm Marmorstein. This remains his biggest undertaking to date. The production was directed by British filmmaker Don Chaffey, who had made two smaller films for Disney in the early 1960s between directing 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 (35°14′49.08″N 120°53′50.63″W / 35.2469667°N 120.8973972°W / 35.2469667; -120.8973972).


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 yellowscreen that was originally used in Mary Poppins and similar to today's greenscreen compositing, whereby up to three scenes might be overlaid 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 him "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]


In 1978, the film 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 50% approval score based on 24 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[edit]

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

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films Awards[edit]

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

Golden Globes[edit]

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, instead playing portions during the opening credits.
  • A 129-minute version, five minutes shorter than the original roadshow edition, was released on DVD in 2001, again in 2009 as the "High-Flying Edition", and in 2012 as a 35th anniversary edition on Blu-ray.

Home video[edit]

The film was released on VHS in early 1980. It was re-released on VHS on October 28, 1994 as a part of Masterpiece Collection. It was going to be released for the first time on DVD in a Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection line-up on December 5, 2000, but it was pushed back to January 16, 2001. Some bonus features includes two animated shorts Lighthouse Keeping and Man, Monsters and Mysteries, two vintage excerpt episodes "Ken Anderson" from Disney Family Album and "The Plausible Impossible" from Disneyland, and both theatrical trailers for the film.

The film was re-released in a "High-Flying Edition" DVD on August 18, 2009. This includes the original concept song "Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You, Too)". It was released on the 35th-anniversary edition Blu-ray on October 16, 2012.


In March 2013, Disney announced a remake of the film, written by David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks, the director/writer and co-producer (respectively) of the Sundance hit Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013). It re-imagines a venerable Disney family and is presented as a straightforward drama as opposed to a musical.[14] It is a live-action remake instead of an animated remake by Disney. Principal photography commenced in January 2015 in New Zealand, with Lowery directing. It was released on 12 August 2016.[15][16]


  1. ^ a b "Pete's Dragon, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 29, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Pete's Dragon (Re-issue) (1984)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 18, 2016. 
  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 August 22, 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c "Awards for Pete's Dragon". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  14. ^ "After Gritty Sundance Debut On 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints', David Lowery to Reinvent 'Pete's Dragon' For Disney". Deadline Hollywood (March 19, 2013).
  15. ^ "Casting call for Disney feature film Pete's Dragon lead role" Archived August 19, 2014, at the Wayback Machine..
  16. ^ Pedersen, Erik (January 15, 2015). "Disney Dates 'Ghost in the Shell', Moves Jungle Book Back 6 Months". Deadline Hollywood. 

External links[edit]