Pete’s Dragon is one of those dubious Disney classics that seems great when you’re a kid, but doesn’t quite stand the test of time. I remember watching it over and over again when I was little, but I also remember finding some parts of the movie so embarrassingly obnoxious that I would actually squirm and press myself into my chair in some sad attempt to escape what was happening onscreen. Looking back, it must have been a case of attraction and repulsion.
As soon as I settled in to watch the new High-Flying edition of Pete’s Dragon, I was greeted by that old sense of squirmy embarrassment. The movie kicks off with a musical number from the Gogan family, a grubby lot of hillbillies led by one Shelley Winters. It seems they paid good money to adopt a little boy named Pete, but clearly they are awful, ignorant people who only want him to work their farm.
Pete himself (Sean Marshall) is a cheerful orphan whose best friend just happens to be a dragon named Elliott. Elliott has the power to appear and disappear at will, and poor Pete is forever getting into trouble for something this enormous, invisible dragon has done. The two are an undeniably charming pair, and they quickly win the hearts of Lampie (Mickey Rooney) and his adult daughter Nora (Helen Reddy). Appropriately, Lampie is a pleasantly alcoholic lighthouse operator, and Nora has a hard time believing he actually saw a dragon in the company of the little orphan boy who has won her heart.
The bulk of the movie is essentially very sweet. Nora, Lampie, and Pete gradually become a family, and the bond between Nora and Pete is especially endearing. Nora is a lovely, sensible woman waiting for the return of her true love, but her youth and her potential are wasted in that lighthouse. She seems to blossom when Pete comes along, and it doesn’t hurt that the girl is a first-class singer. Her rendition of “Candle on the Water” truly is classic, and “Brazzle Dazzle Day” is a pretty cute song in its own right. It’s heart-warming watching things come together for such likable characters, but it’s a shame that there’s so much silly business along the way.
They say that every story needs a conflict, but when that conflict comes in the form of the Gogans and a snake oil salesman who thinks that Elliott would be the perfect addition to his caravan, you seriously start to wish you could spend the duration of the film twirling around a lighthouse with a cartoon dragon and singing songs with Helen. The villains bring a noisy, slapstick element to the movie that detracts from the overall flavor of the film, making it more hit-and-miss than hit.
Extra features include “Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney’s Movie Magic”, a deleted storyboard, the original song concept for “Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too)”, the promotional record, and a disappearing dragon game for the kiddos.