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Pete's Dragon: Gold Classic Collection

Pete's Dragon, the Disney studio's 1977 effort to produce a big-star, big-budget musical in the tradition of Mary Poppins, doesn't always have the subtlety of a true Disney classic, but it does offer a few charming moments and rarely fails to entertain young children. Taken from a story by Seton I. Miller and directed by TV veteran Don Chaffey, the tale concerns orphan Pete (Sean Marshall), who has run away from his cruel guardians the Gogan family and taken refuge in the town of Passamaquoddy, Maine. But Pete is not alone — traveling with him is a sometimes-invisible dragon, Elliot, his best friend and protector. After making enemies with half the town (because of Elliot's destructive behavior), Pete winds up staying with the good-hearted Nora (Helen Reddy) and her boozy father Lampie (Mickey Rooney), who look after the local lighthouse. But while it appears Pete can finally have a home to call his own, traveling snake-oil salesman Doc Terminus (Jim Dale) and his assistant Hoagy (Red Buttons) decide to capture Elliot to serve their own ends. Notable at the time for its ambitious animation, the technical aspects of Pete's Dragon have not withstood the years well — the optical processes of the day are no match for our current CGI standards, and while Don Bluth and Ken Anderson's Elliot is a lively creation, he's also very much a 2-D creature in a 3-D world. The many musical numbers are also a mixed affair — such songs as "I Love You Too," "There's Room for Everyone," and "It's Not Easy" are remarkably overbearing with their cloying earnestness. But the song-and-dance bits that are good are very good, in particular Rooney's spirited tavern-tear "I Saw a Dragon," while Dale and Buttons' "Passamashloddy" is amusing, and their soft-shoe "Every Little Piece" is about as fine a musical number to ever come out of the Mouse House (the refrain "Money, money, money by the pound!" is absolutely infectious). The problem with Pete's Dragon is that, for a film that's virtually wall-to-wall music, there just aren't enough numbers that will hold the interest of adults, and while Rooney, Buttons, and Shelly Winters (as Lena Gogan) have fun camping it up in their roles, only Dale's sly Dr. Terminus can consistently raise a smile from the grown-ups in the audience. Disney's DVD edition of Pete's Dragon is billed as a "restored" release, and it does improve upon previous versions — at 129 minutes it's longer than either the 104-minute theatrical re-release in 1984 or the 92-minute TV version. However, the original roadshow cut of the film ran 134 minutes, so the entire film hasn't quite been "restored" here. The source print is acceptable, although there is some collateral video noise when Elliot is on-screen. Audio has been re-mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1, but the musical numbers do not have the aural richness one would hope for and can sound alternately flat or shrill at moments. Extras on the "Gold Classic Collection" DVD release are generous, and include three still galleries (including concept art), two trailers, a short feature on animator Ken Anderson from 1982, the 1956 Disney short "The Plausible Impossible" (narrated by Walt himself), Disney's animated short "Lighthouse Keeping" with Donald Duck (never before on home video), "Man, Monsters, and Mysteries," another short feature from the Disney vaults, and a "Where's Elliot?" game, which offers a few moments of dragon lore when completed. DVD collectors will appreciate the quality of the extra features, while kids will watch the movie again and again, which means that Pete's Dragon, despite its flaws, will find a welcome place in a lot of households. White keep-case.
—JJB



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