Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Pete’s Dragon

petes dragon indexCurrently while we’re in lockdown I’m trying to avoid going mad by watching as many musicals as I can , which is why I decided to revisit Pete’s Dragon after three long decades. The last time I saw it I loved it but I was at a rather dilapidated Pontins holiday camp at the time and a couple of days later enjoyed watching Raise The Titanic, so my taste in films back then clearly cannot be trusted.

It’s actually a pretty decent film as it goes, it’s by no means an all time classic and certainly not one of Disney’s greatest efforts, but as their mid-seventies fare go it’s not annoying or just plain bad and so definitely worthy of your time if you’re ever stuck indoors for months on end ever again, that or you have a fondness for kids movies which move at a decent pace and contain a reasonable amount of strong gags.

While there’s a fair bit of exposition later on it starts in a great way as it appears that Pete (Sean Marshall) is flying through the sky, desperately attempting to escape Shelley Winters and her redneck sons who immediately burst in to song, half of which is their attempting to persuade Pete as to how lovely they’ll be if he reveals himself to them, and half of which is bizarre threats as to what’ll happen when they catch him, as they claim they’ll be “stinging him like a bee” and roasting him gently so the flames don’t hurt, though I’ve no idea how that works.

Once they finally bugger off and after a nap we at last get to discover just what was going on as we meet Elliot, a big green cartoon dragon with pink hair who makes weird noises that only Pete seems to be able to translate. When Pete and Elliot arrive in the small town of Passamaquoddy they meet the kindly lighthouse keeper Nora (Helen Reddy) and her alcoholic father (Mickey Rooney) who take them in, even if the latter’s terrified of Elliot and the former in denial when it comes to his existence.

After that the film takes on an episodic nature as Pete and Elliot muck about, annoying Pete’s teacher (leaving a dragon shaped hole in the school), and then a sham doctor turns up in town played Jim Dale, who becomes slightly obsessed by the idea that he can kill Elliot and use bits of his body as medicine thanks to some weird old book. He gets Shelley Winters and co back to try and kidnap Elliot too, but as this is a Disney affair you can probably guess that both get their comeuppances and a happy ending is enjoyed by those who deserve it.

It’s a ramshackle affair but full of mostly likeable set pieces, and a lot of the songs are enjoyable, though surprisingly it contains a fair few semi-serious pieces like “There’s Room For Everyone In This World”, a lovely paean that chastises racist / xenophobic idiots, though ” Candle On The Water” and “Brazzle Dazzle Day” while fine are slightly blander, and it’s the more amusing songs like Jim Dale’s “Every Little Piece” which I came away humming at the end of the movie.

Though undoubtedly overlong at two hours and eight minutes, and not featuring enough of Elliot (with the film cheating and featuring him in his invisible form a little too often), it’s largely a lot of fun. I’ve no urge to own the soundtrack (and I do for quite a few family musicals like The Muppets Christmas Carol and Moana) but the script is fairly charming, the human cast give it there all too, while Elliot is a unique creation, and one it’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of here, especially as the Elliot in the 2016 remake isn’t even close to being as appealing as this one is.

★★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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