35th Anniversary Edition
It may get long in the tooth and sometimes breathes more alcohol fumes than actual fire, but the live-action/animation hybrid “Pete's Dragon” remains an agreeable and reasonably enchanting Disney movie musical.
Released in 1977, the family-friendly feature makes its Blu-ray debut with its 35th Anniversary Edition. While the high-definition treatment adds some “Brazzle Dazzle” vibrancy to the innovative pre-green screen adventure, Disney skimps on the bonus material, making fans of the film settle for a few recycled featurettes.
Set in New England at the turn of the 20th century, the film follows lonely 9-year-old orphan Pete (Sean Marshall) and his only pal, a giant green dragon named Elliott. While the rest of the story is told through live action, the violet-haired behemoth with the personality of a puppy dog is depicted as a cartoon.
While his magic lets him remain unseen to everyone but Pete, Elliott's colossal stature makes it all too easy for him to make a monster mess, which the child discovers when they venture into the quiet fishing village of Passamaquoddy. The lad hopes to start a new life there, but after Elliott (comic Charlie Callas provides the beast's grumbles, clicks and occasional growls) unintentionally causes chaos — and accidentally reveals himself to drunken lighthouse keeper Lampie (Mickey Rooney) — the boy and his dragon take shelter in a seaside cave.
Lampie's compassionate daughter/assistant Nora (pop star Helen Reddy) discovers Pete and invites him to live with Lampie and her in the lighthouse.
Rumors and Lampie's beery mutters about Elliott eventually reach slimy snake-oil salesman Doc Terminus (Jim Dale) and his tipsy helper Hoagy (Red Buttons). Familiar with the legends about the supernatural healing properties of dragon's blood, skin and organs, the greedy quack and his inept sidekick plot to capture Elliott.
Don't be fooled by the misprint on the Blu-ray case: The film's runtime is not 88 minutes; it's closer to 128 minutes. The fantasy suffers from too many comedians intent on one-upmanship as well as a glut of forgettable musical interludes penned by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn (Academy Award winners for “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure”), who did craft a few show-stealers with “Brazzle Dazzle Day,” “Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too)” and the Oscar-nominated “Candle on the Water.”
While the effects look understandably dated, “Pete's Dragon” has enough winsome magic to captivate younger viewers, even if they don't make it all the way to the movie's end.
— Brandy McDonnell