As Disney puts the final touches on its upcoming remake of Pete's Dragon, it's about time I look back at a film I really enjoyed as a kid but did not get the chance to revisit... until now.
This is certainly one of Disney's more dated live-action films: it's a pretty stagy Mary Poppins-style musical with an extremely earnest main character and most of the others hamming it up big time. It's also one of the Mouse House's most adorable movies ever and Elliott the dragon (animated by Don Bluth) is quite simply a joy from start to finish and even if the rest of the film is not your cup of tea it's likely you'll still fall in love with this endearing animated creation. I should point out it was ambitious of Disney to mix live-action and animation back in 1977 and, while it doesn't always merge that well, Elliott is so likeable that it doesn't matter how smooth that mix is plus younger viewers won't care, I sure didn't.
By essentially just filming a Broadway musical, Pete's Dragon suffers from a lengthy running time, obvious foreshadowing and over-the-top performances which might make it a bit of a challenge for current audiences to jump into. That said, there's enough charm here to carry anyone through. This is one of the best, most bittersweet films about friendship you'll see and the relationship between Pete (Sean Marshall) and Elliott is a winner, especially when they're just hanging out like during the irresistible "Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You Too)" song. Speaking of the music, while it helps if you enjoy musicals it's hard to deny just how good the the songs are in this movie: each number has a catchy melody and is a lot of fun not to mention charming as hell.
And although the film is pretty upbeat, it's also much darker than you'd think. The villains sing about how they want to torture Pete or dismember Elliott with a big smile on their face, everyone in the small town of Passamaquoddy hates both of them with a passion and Mickey Rooney's character is a complete alcoholic. The cast is altogether very good: Jim Dale is hilarious as greedy charlatan Dr Terminus, Helen Reddy brings a much needed subtle film-friendly performance to an otherwise theatrical effort and the other baddies, led by a dirtied-up Shelley Winters, are appropriately vile. If anything, Sean Marshall is the weakest actor of the bunch but you usually have Elliott there with him so it's no big deal plus the young actor does well during the more emotional moments, admittedly. The film has a lot of heart and you get attached to the core friendships portrayed in it.
It's a shame that Pete's Dragon never quite enjoyed the same praise that Mary Poppins did because it's every bit as likeable and the songs are, in fact, much better. This is a sweet story told with energy and heart and I do recommend revisiting it as it remains one of Disney's most loveable live-action classics, even if it is dated.