At the time of its initial release, Disney’s Pete’s Dragon was the most expensive production in the studio’s history. It was yet another attempt for the company to present a fantasy family musical to a general audience hoping that it would rival the popularity of Mary Poppins, and while the film did okay business, it was not given the rapturous reception that greeted that previous award-winning work. (It took the company many more years before Enchanted was able to tap into the same mystique that had enhanced Mary Poppins.) Now in its 35th anniversary year, Pete's Dragon still offers very little magic. It’s colorful and pleasant and features a couple of decent tunes, but charm is largely absent in the movie despite an award-winning cast that’s trying their hardest to give the film some boffo comic sheen.
Pete’s Dragon: 35th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Don Chaffey
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 129 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: SDH, French
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Review Date: October 11, 2012
Pete (Sean Marshall) has run away from the hillbilly Gogan clan who abuse him and treat him as a slave and has ended up on the Maine coast with his trusty dragon Elliott (mumbles by Charlie Callas) with him. Plucky lighthouse keeper Nora (Helen Reddy) and her rascally father Lampie (Mickey Rooney) take him in, and all seems well until medicine man Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his assistant Hoagy (Red Buttons) decide that Elliott’s many parts could be carved up into lots of phony potions to make them rich. With the Gogans headed by the evil Lena (Shelley Winters) looking for Pete and the doctor looking for Elliott, both will need a lot of help to escape capture.
Many of the film’s problems come from extreme overlength. At over two hours, the plot is way too slender to support the kind of overproduction it’s granted here even with ten musical numbers to prop it up. Truth be told, most of the numbers, even with choreography by the Oscar-winning Onna White, are forgettable and unnecessary with the Al Kasha-Joel Hirschhorn songs on the whole not registering in any memorable way. Yes, “The Happiest Home in These Hills” introduces the scraggily Gogans (though it gets the movie off to a very shaky start), “I Love You, Too” helps us get to know Pete and Elliott, and “Passamashloddy” serves as the intro for Dr. Terminus and his henchman, but the songs themselves are long and uneventful. The lighthouse tended by Nora serves as the backdrop for the score’s two best numbers: the lovely “Candle on the Water” as Nora yearns for her love (Cal Bartlett) lost at sea, and the lively “Brazzle Dazzle Day” as the new family tends to chores around the lighthouse. Director Don Chaffey goes along with Disney’s standard operating procedure of the time: lots of slapstick involving mud holes, eggs, tar, and running gags with a white picket fence that keeps getting destroyed and a concrete sidewalk that’s continually ruined. But he can’t seem to do anything about pacing the film to seem shorter than its excruciating running time while production numbers like “There’s Room for Everyone” and “Bill of Sale” just never catch fire.
The director also seems to let his Oscar-Emmy-Tony-Grammy award winning cast mug and overact for the camera at every opportunity. Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Jim Dale, and Shelley Winters, all great talents, seem to be in a contest for who can put on the goofiest, most overdrawn performance in the film, and it’s a photo finish. In the film’s two pivotal roles, however, he has the opposite problem: neither Sean Marshall as Pete nor Helen Reddy as Nora possess an ounce of screen charisma or charm, both badly needed in a fantasy movie where they are the protagonists. Reddy sings sweetly but shows no passion and Marshall’s pale voice and inexperience doesn’t help matters much. Elliott can be a fun creation (animation supervised by Don Bluth before he left the studio), but a little of him goes a long way.
The film has been framed at 1.66:1 for this presentation and is offered in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s a gorgeous transfer with rich, bright color that never blooms and accurate and appealing flesh tones. It’s generally very sharp, too, though there are a couple of scenes that are inconsistent with what comes before or after. Black levels are only good rather than great. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix isn’t anything special and doesn’t use the soundstage optimally. There is some bleed from the orchestra into the rear channels during the main titles and the musical numbers, but most of the movie has a monophonic presence. Even the climactic storm at sea sequence finds nothing being done surround-wise to make it more exciting or immersive. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
All of the bonus material is presented in 480i.
“Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney’s Movie Magic” is a 25 ½-minute summary of Disney’s history of marrying live action with animation going all the way back to the 1920s “Alice” shorts and right up through The Three Caballeros, Song of the South, Fun and Fancy Free, Mary Poppins, and others. The now grown Sean Marshall narrates this featurette which also offers a look at Disney inventor and technician Ub Iwerks and his great importance to the Disney magic, and Marshall also shares memories of making the movie with some behind-the-scenes shots of the cast and crew at work.
There is a deleted scene shown in storyboard form where the medicine men hunt Elliott. It runs 2 ½ minutes.
An original story concept for “I Love You, Too” is presented in a 2 ½-minute storyboard and temp track.
Two reissue trailers are presented in a montage that runs 2 ½ minutes.
The disc offers promo trailers for Cinderella and Wreck-It Ralph.
The second disc in the set is the DVD version of the movie.
3/5 (not an average)
Don’t let the packaging fool you: it states that the film runs 88 minutes (the press release repeats this error), but this is the 129-minute version of Pete’s Dragon complete with near-reference picture quality and some of the bonus material from the last DVD release ported over. The film is a pleasant but forgettable entertainment, but at least this puts another film from the Disney vaults out for public consumption.