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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 31: "Pete's Dragon"

(Originally published on 8/2/22)


Pete’s Dragon

Run time: 128 min.

Release Date: November 3, 1977.

Where/when I first saw it: On in the background at Blockbuster Video, 1992.

How I watched it today: Disney+ stream, Sunday evening

I can only imagine how nervous Disney must’ve felt in the months leading up to the release of “Pete’s Dragon,” now that “Star Wars” had taken youth by storm and changed the landscape of cinema forever. What passed for children’s entertainment during this period would no longer be enough. Overly precocious kids, lame pratfalls and broadly-acted villains would now get a collective eye-roll from children, especially when they know Luke Skywalker is blowing up the Death Star in another theater not far, far away. Watching “Pete’s Dragon,” all I could picture were young, increasingly bored and impatient filmgoers shifting in their seats and begging their parents to see George Lucas’ space epic again (and again and again).

This was Disney’s third feature film in 1977 after two entertaining animated films (“The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” and “The Rescuers”). This time, the animators once again tried to rekindle the magic of live action mixed with animation that had become a Disney trademark. Sitting in for the dancing penguins and sports-loving animals, the story concerns a thoroughly charmless, mumbling dragon who is sometimes invisible. In the role of Pete (the homeless boy who befriends the dragon), Sean Marshall does a convincing job of acting alongside a blank space and doing his damndest to convince the audience there’s a real friendship here.

So, it's not his fault. It’s everything else. The plot gets needlessly complicated when a pair of bumbling snake-oil salesmen try to trap the dragon and use its properties to make more fake medicine to sell to the locals (clearly, these two are modeled after Honest John and Gideon from “Pinocchio”). Isn’t enough of a story to have the kid try to decide between being homeless with a dragon and living a normal life with a loving mother and grandfather figure? What really, really doesn’t help here are the musical numbers, which slow down an already sluggish film.

The 128 minutes quickly becomes a chore to sit through and made me happy I was born when I was born (1972, so yes, I was alive at this point, but completely unaware) and had missed out on most of the ‘70s-era (mostly) live-action Disney output.


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