“It’s a Brazzle Dazzle Day!”
In 1977, Disney released Pete’s Dragon, a film about a boy (Sean Marshall, The Small One) and his sometimes-invisible-always-mischievous dragon Elliot (voiced by comedian Charlie Callas, High Anxiety). Disney had been working on perfecting the blending of live-action and animation for decades, having great success with films like Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. When it came time to make Pete’s Dragon, it didn’t take long to decide it too was a good vehicle for the mixed medium.
The movie did indeed enjoy success, most notably an Oscar nomination for the ballad “Candle on the Water.” However, as time passed, Pete’s Dragon fell out of favor with audiences, never earning that Disney classic status. This 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray edition highlights why that may be the case.
On the surface, this is a story of orphan Pete and his only friend, a protective dragon. Watching the movie as a kid, I accepted that premise at face value. As an adult, it comes across as a story of an abused boy who’s sold into slavery and runs away to the small seaside village of Passamaquoddy where he’s taken in by Nora (singer Helen Reddy) who’s nursing a broken heart following the death of her financeé a year earlier. These days Nora maintains the town lighthouse, where she lives with dad Lampie (Mickey Rooney, The Year Without a Santa Claus), the town drunk.
Those plot threads are more than enough to get us through a film, but Pete’s Dragon throws in another subplot featuring charlatan Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale, Pushing Daisies) and his sidekick Hoagy (Red Buttons, The Poseidon Adventure), as they attempt to con the townspeople out of their money and separate Elliot from Pete. In the end, it’s just too many things to keep track of for a kids’ film.
Pete’s Dragon also suffers from the disappearance of Elliot for a good chunk of the film’s two-hour runtime (don’t be fooled by the packaging mislabeling this as 88 min; we should be that lucky!). As the title character, he needs to be more involved. The final blow is dealt by the lack of a happily ever after. This is a kids’ film and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to re-watch it.
What will sway those wondering whether or not to plunk down the money for this two-disc set are the technical specs. Say what you will about Disney, but they know how to treat digital restorations. Pete’s Dragon (Blu-ray) 35th Anniversary Edition is a completely gorgeous 1.66:1/1080p transfer, and when played side-by-side with the included standard def DVD it’s obvious how much care was taken in upgrading the film to HD. The palette is more saturated which reveals the age of its quaint visual effects (I love to see how far the industry has come), but it’s beautiful to look at, even with its sodium screen demarcations. There’s almost zero grain and the blending of matte paintings and actual locations is near seamless. What’s a Disney musical without decent sound? Thankfully the technicians took care of that too, upgrading to a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track which is above and beyond what the film demands. Also included is an alternate language Dolby 5.1 Surround track in French, as well as well English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
For some reason, when deciding which special features to include, Disney decided not to port over everything from the 2009 Pete’s Dragon: High Flying Edition, instead incorporating only three featurettes. The first is a nice look at the history of blending live-action and animation; the second a deleted scene storyboard sequence; and the third an alternate version storyboard sequence for the song “Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too).” I can’t imagine why there aren’t more bonus features for this anniversary release, but the Blu-ray definitely suffers from their exclusion.
When you add up the strikes against Pete’s Dragon, it’s not going to win a recommendation to purchase. However, I do think a viewing is warranted. A movie like this could help open up a dialogue about life’s infinite endings, especially those which aren’t necessarily happy.