Film A Week 16: Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Before we go on, I like to say that we have reached the end of the month long look at the wonders of animation in all its form. I like to thank the guest writers who came aboard to help out with this magnificent albeit short month and for you Film A Week readers giving them a chance. More writers may pop by in the future for more collaborative views on film. Yet, for this review, I will be ridin’ solo.

Now, onto the review.

Imaginary friends as children always seemed to be a strange case. A couple of friends will give a funny look as one chats away with a nonexistent being and others will come by and play along as to not make it seem awkward. Imagination is a powerful thing, but even those who think that someone just has imaginary may be blown away by just how real they are.

Pete’s Dragon tells the tale of a young orphan boy named, well, Pete who loves to play with his dragon (stop snickering) named Elliot. Fortanatley, the dragon is all the boy has as he tries to escape the reigns of his previous foster family of nothing but rednecks. Pete soon ends up in Passamacracker? Passamytoejam? Wait, Passamaquoddy, Maine to hide out. Having arrive, they enter their world with a drunk Mickey Rooney, a snake oil con man, and Helen Reddy doing what she was born to do: singing her ass off.

The film is particuliar unique as one of the main characters is fully animated in the lush Disney animation style blending 2D animation with the live action footage. Sadly, the kinks were still being worked out at the time so the live action interaction do not mesh as well as they should. The scene at the start with Pete and Elliot eating apples is a heartwarming scene, but the lines where both meet are as clear as day to see. Luckily, Elliot is a lovable and well designed character, due in part to being animated by animation master Don Bluth.

The performances in the film are an odd collection of classic legends and scenary chewing. Helen Reddy as Nora is the typical den mother role, but achieves much more than that. Her fragile nature over the loss of the man she loves shines through in the powerhouse ‘Candle in the Water’ with Reddy giving it her all. Reddy seemed to have a blast her role. Not bad for someone known mostly for being a pop star in the disco laden 70s. Mickey Rooney as Lampie, Nora’s father, is played with warmth and heart despite mostly being a drunkard in scenes. He comes off as a believable father figure that when it comes time to adopt Pete, it seems filled with real admiration for Pete.

Jim Dale and Red Buttons as Dr. Terminus and Hoagy respectively are, pardon my language, fuckin’ hysterical. Dale’s performance delivers all the wonders of a classic jerkass Disney villian, but whip smart insults and clever moments of humor like a villian you want to just hang out with. Red Buttons as Hoagy could not have been a better choice as Buttons always hits the right marks when it comes to humor, be it through his expressions or his ability to deliver a dry joke. The Gogans, lead by Shelly Winters, are also a hoot with Grover and Willie (Gary Morgan and Jeff Conaway) getting into constant traps, slapstick moments that the Stooges would praise and even fighting one another just for the hell of it. Sean Marshall as Pete was also quite well by playing the innocence of Pete to a tee and capturing the essence of a Dickensian orphan type.

The music of the movie is quite hit and miss. The tunes ‘Passamaqouddy’, ‘Candle on the Water’, ‘I Saw A Dragon’ and ‘There’s Room for Everyone’ are quite the true highlights of the entire film. ‘Passamaqouddy’ captures the pure idiocy of Termenius and shows the humor that he can dish out alongside the rousing number ‘I Saw A Dragon’ giving our first impression of Lampie’s drunken haze. ‘Candle on the Water’, like mentioned before, is a powerhouse and filled with heartbreak from Reddy. ‘There’s Room for Everyone’ feels like a number straight from previous Disney musical Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks and is just as fantastic. Other songs fall a bit flat and seem to lead the viewer to want more. Saying that about a musical is not usually the best compliment in the world.

With that said, the film is just okay. I certainly see why it is a classic, but compared to other Disney efforts, it seems to be too much of a mediocre version of those features. The fault is in the story being done to death with constant films about orphans and friends which Disney is guilty of beating to the ground. Twists are telegraphed from miles away and it seems to overstay its welcome near the mid point where the true plot gets started. Yet, I recommend it for those who have yet to see it, but do not expect this to completely sell you. If it does, you are a better person than I.

Next week, Film A Week heads into the summer movie season by covering films of the summer. How to kick it off you say? By covering one of the biggest summer film box office bombs in recent memories that deserves more love. We head to Toronto to take a look at the precious little life Scott Pilgrim has after meeting his dream girl Ramona Flowers. What can possibly go wrong? Oh, yea, having to go toe to toe with all her exes. Scott Pilgrim is going to get it together and take on the world.

Film A Week 17: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Saturday, May 4th.
Part of Take Back the Summer Cinema Month


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