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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD Review: Pete's Dragon: High-Flying Edition

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#1 of 1 ONLINE   Neil Middlemiss

Neil Middlemiss


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  • Real Name:Neil Middlemiss

Posted August 16 2009 - 06:11 AM

Pete's Dragon
High-Flying Edition
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Year: 1977
US Rating: G - General Audiences
Film Length: 129 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Subtitles: English

US Release Date: August 18, 2009
Review Date: August 16, 2009

The Film - http://static.hometh...milies_star.gif">

“Well if there's enough room for a chowder-head like you, then there is more than enough room for a dragon”

Walt Disney released Pete’s Dragon on November 3, 1977. A mix of live action and animation, it tells the story of a scruffy young orphan, Pete, on the run from his mean adopted family. With his trusted magic dragon friend, Elliott, who can turn invisible at will, he wanders into a peaceful seaside Maine town called Passamaquoddy. And though the portly dragon cannot be seen by the townsfolk, his considerable size and clumsy nature quickly cause havoc, which is then blamed upon the good-natured and innocent Pete.


As Pete finds refuge in a cave on the beach, the local lighthouse guardian, Nora, sees and reaches to him - feeding him and giving him a roof over his head. Nora’s father, Lampie, a bit of a drunk, is, aside from Pete, the only one in town that has actually seen him – he is frightened by the dopey green goof. At the same time, a flimflam artist, Dr. Terminus, along with his cohort Hoagie roll into town and, upon realizing there is a dragon around, decide that if they could get their hands on him, they could make a pretty penny.


As Pete starts to settle into the quiet Maine town, with Nora and Lampie warming to him, the mean Gogans, the cronies who mistreated poor Pete causing him to run away, roll into town to reclaim him; to take him home and make him work hard on their farm.


Pete’s Dragon didn’t really strike a chord when it was first released, meeting lukewarm critical reaction and less than impressive box office receipts. But the film is genuinely charming. Young Pete, played by Sean Marshall in his first feature film, is tenacious and pathetic in equal amounts, and his performance with a dragon that is never actually there is quite good. Other performances are solid given the broadness of the characters. Helen Reedy plays Nora, the good-hearted lighthouse guard who takes care of young Pete. Mickey Rooney plays Nora’s father, Lampie – the first of the townsfolk to actually see Elliot (and freak-out, running into the town tavern and sparking an impressive musical number). Jim Dale, the handsome actor perhaps best known from his performances in the cheeky British Carry On… films, portrays the shamster Dr. Terminus, while his assistant is portrayed by the great Red Buttons. Finally, as Lena, the head of the ugly and mean Gogans’ is Shelley Winters. Each inhabits their role with vivaciousness, diving unafraid and overboard into the world of this Disney children’s film.


Pete’s Dragon thrives on the bounty of broad caricatures; exaggerated good guys and bad guys which makes it a little more pantomime than fairytale. But the pervasive sense of whimsy and over-played characters keep the lofty two-hour running time moving at a brisk pace. Some of the musical numbers are more serious, Broadway-like than you might expect, which no doubt helped the songs receive Academy Award recognition.


In fact, the considerable musical numbers throughout are impressive and, at times, elaborate, becoming a notable and striking element of the film – more so than most other musical Disney adventures.  With great numbers like “Candle on the Water”, “Passamashloddy” and “Brazzle Dazzle Day” – you will find yourself swept up in the fun.


But the real treat is Elliot – animated by the great Don Bluth, voiced (if you can call his grunting and clicking a voice) by Charlie Callus and made real in the actor’s realm by Disney’s experienced hand in special effects. Pete’s Dragon is a feast of special effects, over-the-top playfulness and the simplicity of good overcoming and the ending being safely a happy one.


Through the years, Pete’s Dragon has been presented with a yo-yoing running time. First appearing with a running time of 134 minutes during the initial limited engagements, then with 121 minute running time (which is how it appeared on VHS in 1980). Then it was rereleased to theaters in 1984 trimmed down to 104 minutes then appeared again on VHS in 1985 back up to 128 minutes. On TV, it was a limp 94 minutes – but now we have a version listed with a 129 minute running time. I cannot be sure, but this would appear to be in line with the theatrical release running time (post its limited engagement appearance).

Disney’s family friendly tale, first released to theaters in 1977, is released in a new High Flying edition with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. The image looks great for a film this old. While the dragon, Elliot, shows some wear and tear – grainy and dirty looking animation at times (and much clearer at other times) – the overall image quality is solid. I was impressed by the animators and how they muted the brightness of Elliot’s green for scenes in shadowed settings or in the darkness of night. That is shown off well here. Softness and grain, appropriate for its era and original presentation are present, while colors are remarkably bright and clean. A Very good presentation.

The Sound - http://static.hometh...milies_star.gif"> out of

Pete’s Dragon comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio option. Common, I have found, among live-action Disney films from the 70’s, this film’s audio is extremely front-heavy and has that muting – or sounds like it is coming through fabric – quality. But the audio shows off more during the many music numbers and even appear in the surrounds – but for the most part, calling this audio 5.1 seems like a bit of a stretch. But the audio seems fitting of what I remember, and if it were too alive in the surrounds, may have seemed out of place.

“Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Disney’s Movie Magic” – A look behind the scenes with Sean Marshall (who played Pete) narrating a peak at how the effects created the magic in the film. This is a great explanation of the technical wonder of effects (pre-CGI) for kids to get an understanding of how the magic comes to life. This brief history of effects and how they were used in Pete’s Dragon is very good.


“Deleted Storyboard Sequence: “Terminus & Hoagy Hunt Elliot”” – A look at this storyboard sequence, complete with music, sound effects and stand-in vocal performances.


“Original Song Concept: “Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You Too)”” – Artist rendering of how an earlier version of the song could have come to life (a little more elaborate in some ways than the final version).


“Original Demo Recordings (Audio Only)” – Demo recordings of an alternate version of the “Brazzle Dazzle Day” song, an alternate melody for “Every Little Piece” and a brand new song (a deleted song for a deleted character) called “The Greatest Star of All”.


“Promotional Record (Audio Only)” – Available here are pop versions of four songs from the film that were used to promote the movie and were originally released on a 7” record. This is a rare treat.


“Where’s Elliot?” – Use your remote for this game to follow clues and find the invisible Elliot.


Pete’s Dragon Art Gallery” – Scroll through an image gallery with your remote, with the ability to view the thumbnails full screen. They are broken into three categories; Concept Art, Behind The Scenes and Publicity.


“Trailers” – Watch the theatrical and international trailers.


“About Pete’s Dragon – Text discussing the origins of the story as well as how it became a part of Disney’s library of fun family friendly films.  


“Disney Family Album” – An excerpt showcasing Ken Anderson, long-time character animator with Walt Disney Studios (and the man who designed Elliot).


“The Plausible Impossible” – An excerpt from this Walt Disney hosted show talking about how to bring ‘the impossible’ to life through animation.


“Lighthouse Keeping” – A classic Daffy Duck cartoon set, of course, in a Lighthouse. Another genuine treat.

Final Thoughts


I distinctly remember loving this film when I was a kid. It was likely rented by my parents on VHS in 1982 as one of the first video cassettes we had in our house. As I popped in this DVD to watch, I was eager to recall the same sense of wonder I had enjoyed as a young lad watching a magical dragon appear and disappear at will; causing a ruckus with his innocent playfulness and protecting the kind young orphan. Time hasn’t been all that kind to Pete’s Dragon (it shows its age) but that doesn’t diminish the joy a young child will get from the silliness, sprightly musical numbers and the big ol’ heart that can be found in every corner of this film. The film might actually only deserve three-and-a-half stars, but for taking me back a couple of decades to my youth and giving me reason to smile, this Disney gem gets a thumbs up from me and four solid stars.

Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC

"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
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