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An orphan is befriended by a dragon, invisible to all but him, who helps him find a home with a lighthouse keeper and his daughter, even as they are pursued by the boy's corrupt foster family and a charlatan medicine man out to destroy the dragon for his own greedy purposes.
For more about Pete's Dragon and the Pete's Dragon Blu-ray release, see Pete's Dragon Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on October 17, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Helen Reddy, Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters, Jim Dale, Red Buttons, Sean Marshall
Director: Don Chaffey
» See full cast & crew
Pete's Dragon Blu-ray Review
"I don't own him. He just sort of goes to those who need him!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, October 17, 2012
There are rare moments, however brief, when I curse this job -- curse the heavens curse -- and this is one of them. I'll spare you the autobiographic acrobatics as best I can. As a child, there were four VHS tapes in constant circulation at my house: Return of the Jedi, The Secret of NIMH, The NeverEnding Story and, you guessed it, Pete's Dragon. There were other movies scattered about as well. Some beloved, some not-so-beloved. But none were worn more ragged, none were more treasured, none more committed to memory than those four. In the years since, I've kept tabs on all but one. Return of the Jedi is still a personal Star Wars favorite, geekdom be damned. The Secret of NIMH is a dark delight as haunting, exhilarating and artfully crafted as it was in 1982. And The NeverEnding Story remains a wondrous and absorbing fantasy, even some twenty-eight years after Bastian first soared over Fantasia. But Pete's Dragon? I'm pretty sure the Berlin Wall was still standing the last time I imagined sharing an apple with Elliott the Dragon. Oh, I have fond memories of Pete and Elliott's adventure, I do. Vivid memories. But I've walked this road before; revisiting a long lost favorite only to have my fragile, childlike affection dashed. And that's exactly what happened. Nostalgia can only weather so many storms, especially when it hasn't been properly maintained.
On the run from the absurdly Appalachian, horribly abusive Gogan family, a young orphan by the name of Pete (Sean Marshall) is rescued by a massive creature that can breath fire and turn invisible whenever necessary; a kindly dragon Pete calls Elliott (Charlie Callas). The two become fast friends over apples and a song, and Elliott continues to watch over Pete, largely unseen, as the boy is taken in by a no-nonsense woman named Nora (Helen Reddy) and her tipsy father Lampie (Mickey Rooney) in the small seaside town of Passamaquoddy. But while Lampie catches a glimpse of Elliott, Nora isn't about to accept that dragons exist on the say-so of a lonely orphan and the town drunk, even if that town drunk happens to be her dear ol' dad. What follows unfolds rather predictably, with Pete bonding with Elliott and growing irritated with his new pal's invisible antics, Lampie attempting to convince the locals of his discovery, and a pair of traveling snake oil salesman, Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his right-hand con man Hoagy (Red Buttons), working every angle to take full advantage of the entire situation, dragon or no.
Thirty-five years removed, Pete's Dragon is far more notable for trivia track-esque tidbits than its timeless qualities or enduring charm, both of which are in short supply. Just a small sample: the film, then one of Disney's most expensive undertakings, was directed by Don Chaffey of Jason and the Argonauts fame. Elliott, an impressively animated creature in his own right, was a compositing marvel created by Snow White art director and Disney mainstay Ken Anderson, soon-to-be-disgruntled animator Don Bluth (Pete's Dragon being his final feature film at Disney) and Don Hahn, who went on to leave his mark on live-action/animation compositing a decade later with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There's more -- it was Disney's first foray into Dolby Stereo, the first film the studio licensed to video-rental pioneer Fotomat, the unfortunate victim of a television version cut by more than thirty-five minutes (among those cuts an Oscar-nominated song), and remains the source of other fun factoids -- but it only goes to show how readily overshadowed, invisible even, the film itself is in danger of becoming. Thin by any standard yet undeniably bloated at 129-minutes, the story, script and sheer amount of musical numbers are the dastardly villains responsible. The TV version may be inferior but its producers had one thing right: the movie tends to drag. And the actors, lovable and enthusiastic as they are, aren't working with the kind of material that justifies such blazing smiles, eager delivery and boisterous musical numbers.
And yet in spite of all my middle-aged curmudgeony, Pete's Dragon performed its time-warping magic as only a childhood favorite can. Sometimes it was little more than the opening bars of a song. I couldn't believe how easily the words to "I Love You Too," "I Saw a Dragon" and "Brazzle Dazzle Day" came flooding back. Other times it was just watching scruffy maned Sean Marshall and Bluth's expressively animated Elliott interact, which would suddenly and viscerally exhume long buried wonder. Don't misunderstand; I'll be the first to admit the thirty-five-year old compositing effects have lost much of their luster (or at least whatever luster they held for a grade school boy in the early '80s). No, this was a more ingrained, almost intimate awe cine-cynics would be foolish to dismiss. Nostalgia is as blinding as it is binding, but there isn't anything to be gained from completely divorcing nostalgia from catalog children's films. Pete's Dragon won't have much success casting its spell on most 21st century kids (especially those over seven), nor will it attract many newcomers beyond Disney completists who missed it the first (second, third and fourth) time around. It will, however, appeal to kids of the '70s and '80s, now well into their thirties and forties, looking to reconnect with old memories and relics of childhood or introduce their children to bright, bubbly family films from a simpler age.
Pete's Dragon Blu-ray, Video Quality
Pete's Dragon has been granted new life courtesy of Disney's polished and proficient 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer. While the film slogs through bouts of softness, some more glaring than others, most eyesores trace back to cinematographer Frank Phillips' photography. Nothing more. Yes, the image has been subjected to some judicious filtering, but it doesn't take a remotely substantial toll. Fine textures are showcased again and again, closeups are striking, edges are surprisingly crisp and clean on the whole, and grain is both present and pleasant, even though it appears to have been normalized a bit by way of non-invasive restoration or remastering techniques. Color and contrast are lovely as well, with bright, bounding colors, vivid primaries, and deep black levels. Skintones run a touch pink, darker scenes tend to be murky and oppressive, and Elliott and other composited elements are grainier than the backgrounds onto which they've been placed, but again, most, if not all of these slight distractions are source-based. I didn't notice any troubling artifacting, banding, aliasing or other such oddities, and I came away from my time with the film wondering what, if anything, Disney could have done to significantly (emphasis on significantly) improve the presentation further.
Pete's Dragon Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track isn't so much a commanding audio presentation as it is a commendable one. The rear speakers are used very sparingly, as is the full force of the LFE channel, and voices are sometimes thin, muffled or accompanied by a low-lying hiss. Even so, it's important to remember that Pete's Dragon is celebrating its 35th Anniversary. This is the film's original sound design given the opportunity to sink or swim, and it does both on different occasions. Thankfully, dialogue is typically clear, intelligible and capably prioritized, dynamics are decent, pans are scattered but smooth, and Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn and Irwin Kostal's songs and musical score sound quite good all things considered. Disney's lossless track isn't going to turn heads, but it does right by Pete, Elliott and the film's original sound design.
Pete's Dragon Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Pete's Dragon Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Pete's Dragon will work its magic on anyone nostalgic enough to be susceptible to its tricks, but as a Disney classic, a kids film or even a family musical, it's too bloated and ungainly for its own good. My inner child came out to play; my cranky critic kept glancing at his watch. Disney's Blu-ray release defies the film's thirty-five years, though, thanks to an excellent video transfer and a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Now if only it lived up to its 35th Anniversary moniker and offered new celebratory special features. High definition retrospective anyone?
Pete's Dragon: Other Editions
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Pete's Dragon Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Pete's Dragon - October 15, 2012
Blu-ray.com and Walt Disney Home Entertainment are offering three members an opportunity to win a copy of Pete's Dragon, starring Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters and, of course, Elliott the Dragon. The 1977 live-action/animated musical comes ...
• Pete's Dragon Blu-ray - September 25, 2012
Disney is bringing director Don Chaffey's 1977 classic Pete's Dragon to Blu-ray. The live action/animated musical stars Mickey Rooney (Night at the Museum), Helen Reddy (singer/songwriter), Sean Marshall (The Small One), Red Buttons (The Longest Day) and Tv's Jim ...
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