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Disney In Depth: Blu-ray Review: Pete’s Dragon
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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Pete's Dragon Blu-ray Image

Pete’s Dragon
Blu-ray l Blu-ray/DVD Combo
DIRECTOR: Don Chaffey
STARRING: Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Sean Marshall
Walt Disney Home Video
RELEASE DATE: October 16, 2012

Two hours represents a worthy portion of the day that could be used to engage in many activities. Cleaning the house. Raking a yard full of leaves. Painting a room. All of those chores seem much more entertaining than watching portions of Pete’s Dragon, an inept entry in the Disney catalog.

This musical-themed drama/comedy symbolizes why general audiences may have failed to connect with some of what the company produced during the 1970s.

The Movie

You know a film is pure trouble when the first few minutes scream cheesiness, silliness and clumsiness. Within moments we meet Pete, a moppet-like child played by Sean Marshall, running through the woods. He and his often-invisible dragon friend, Elliott, are fleeing from Pete’s adoptive family, a bunch of hillbilly stereotypes. Along the way they set up traps for these folks. I cringed as I listened to the dreadful scratchiness of “The Happiest Home in These Hills.” In another scene, Pete and Elliott bring mayhem to the quintessential turn-of-the-century American town of Passamaquoddy. Nothing says good-old fun like seeing a town person splattered with eggs, thanks to Elliott’s antics. Need I mention Elliott does not talk, other than mumble with gibberish? Throw in even more pranks, some songs here and there, a drunken lighthouse keeper named Lampie, played by Mickey Rooney, and you have Pete’s Dragon. The most entertaining scene in the first half-hour might have been watching a bunch of tipsy folks rolling on barrels of beer.

Then something happens. A change of heart and tone. Beauty. And that’s where I was struck. I expected garbage and foolery from the initial lightheartedness and tactlessness, but a touching scene in a cave between Elliott and Pete, and later Pete and Helen Reddy’s sweet Nora, displays the sweet spirit absent until this point. The tender ditty “It’s Not Easy” (featured in the clip below) recalls the simple, yet catchy songwriting accustomed to the era – in all the right ways. It almost sounded like an old Burt Bacharach tune. Minutes later showmen quacks Doc Terminus (Jim Dale) and Hoagy (Red Buttons) return to Passamaquoddy, to much hostility, from both the townspeople and viewers like me, just beginning to have faith this was not awful.

Thank goodness for Reddy’s show-stopping performance of “Candle on the Water,” set on the top of the lighthouse, to return everything back onto the less-crooked track. This Academy Award-nominated song is as timeless as they come, a welcomed part of this film. The second half of the movie meanders as much as the first, but at least lacks the entirely-thoughtless trends. Rooney, Buttons and Dale work as much with the provided comedic material as possible, but these gifted comedians are offered little substance. Yet, in the hands of any other popular older actors from this era, I am sure the film would have suffered even more. But these men are delegated to one-dimensional roles, with Doc Terminus and Hoagy just set on profiting off of the dragon’s existence, as represented in the standard villain piece of “Every Little Piece.” Couldn’t these antagonists have something better to do than sing about money? “Dragon cartilage keeps you thin” are just some of the lyrics in this song, in which they develop ways to scheme citizens. Really? I would have wished for something cleverer than that.

The Reddy-led songs make Pete’s Dragon worth enduring through. The agreeable “There’s Room for Everyone” also possesses beautiful cinematography within the town and fishing port areas. “Brazzle Dazzle Day” hums with merriment and pleasantness with each beat. The direction here really takes off, as Rooney, Reddy and Marshall use the lighthouse as a wonderful set-piece. Listening evokes a smile that stretches as wide as the reef at the back of this scene. Moments like these enchant the audience with the Disney magic sorely missing during many other portions, such as when the evil Gogan family returns. Cue the tacky 70s-era sound effects and another cringe-inducing song from the hillbillies, “Bill for Sale.” I am surprised the Appalachian community never revolted against this film, which reinforces some dreadful labels.

Many of the scenes fail to evolve the plot in any direction other than to extend the long running time, and the partnership between the Gogans and hoaxers lack originality. The ridiculousness just runs sky high in this climax, which – spoiler alert – involves kidnapping Pete. How disappointing.

Pete sparkles with thousands of colorful lights in the Disney Electrical Parade

Though “Pete’s Dragon” lacks the popularity of many other Disney films, Elliott is featured within Disney’s Electrical Parade.

Presentation

Though the image quality almost consistently sparkles and shines during the lovely-looking daylight scenes, and conveys ominous feelings at night, various moments lack the quality Blu-ray presentation. Elliott does not look HD, per se, as the colors appear muted in tone and even grainy. While the songs sound clear, portions of the dialogue seem muffled. I was less-than-impressed with the blend between animation and live action, yet that reflects more of the time in which this was produced than the actual transfer. Unfortunately the mixture does not look flawless. The bland Blu-ray menu features a static image with a pleasant soundtrack, but I found it difficult to identify the scenes from the “Scene Selection” menu, as no titles – only images – represent the film portion. One important note to make is that both the packaging and discs incorrectly list the film’s running time, as it is not 88 minutes as stated, but rather a more lengthy 129 minutes.

Bonus Features

“Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney’s Magic” explores how the filmmakers managed to capture the merging between live- action and animation, a rather-fascinating featurette. Though this is not a new bonus feature, as it was included on the 2009 DVD edition, at least the Blu-ray is not entirely spared. An unused storyboard sequence is also featured, as well as some original trailers from its rerelease and a look at the early version of “Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too).” Overall, the re-used bonus features feel weak.

"Pete's Dragon" characters Lampie, Pete and Nora

“Pete’s Dragon” features Mickey Rooney (Lampie), Sean Marshall (Pete) and Helen Reddy (Nora).

Pete’s Dragon embodies one of the most disjointed Disney films I can recall, as I was instantly turned off by the ridiculous first portion, and later torn between feelings of dissatisfaction and untainted joyfulness. That represents this film’s problem, in that the fickle tone produces a level of detachment. I can see nostalgic viewers who grew up with Pete’s Dragon finding much value in picking up a copy of this Blu-ray/DVD combo-pack. For the rest of us, though, merely downloading the Reddy-sung Pete’s Dragon songs does the job of evoking the happiness that much of the film could not carry out successfully.

Film: C-
Presentation: B
Bonus Features: C-

Overall Grade: C

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Return back next week for another edition of Disney In Depth. Catch alerts for upcoming editions of the column by following me on Twitter. Have a good week!

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