Over the years, Elliott has become better known as the dragon from Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade than as the titular star of “Pete’s Dragon.” Thirty-five years after the film’s release, this live action / animation hybrid arrives home in high definition for the first time, but not in the classiest fashion.
When it was released in 1977, “Pete’s Dragon” wasn’t exactly a ground breaking film. Though today it does offer a vibe of being a precursor to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” in enabling human actors to interact with an animated character, Disney previously achieved similar looking results with films like “Mary Poppins” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” years prior. As such, “Pete’s Dragon” was nearly antiquated when it first hit theaters, not only in its animation style but also with its heavy ’50s / ’60s family vibe, mashed up with ’70s style.
Now, 35 years later, the film barely stands on its own, with goofy sing-songy dialogue coupled with far too many actual songs, seemingly one every other minute for the first half of the film. And it’s hard to overlook the many poorly dubbed lines, often not quite matching actors’ lips.
There are moments to enjoy in “Pete’s Dragon,” particularly the 22 or so minutes of screen time Elliott actually has. His animation, created by Disney legends including Glen Keane and Ron Clements, is wonderful to watch and his mannerisms are entirely unique to this character. Despite Elliott not actually speaking, his intentions and emotions are quite clear through expression and movement, and the film leaves all viewers wanting a helpful dragon of their own.
Mickey Rooney and Jim Dale are the standout human stars of the film, both offering over-the-top performances in their very different roles. Rooney’s character Lampie is endearing when he’s sober and appropriately off-putting when he’s drunk, which happens quite often. No Disney movie today would feature quite a heavy emphasis on getting plastered. Dale perfectly plays the film’s villain, Dr. Terminus, a man you love to hate. His songs are among the best of the movie and he’s practically an animated character, but barely a human.
But it’s tough to look past the movie’s many stumbles, which drag on for more than two hours at a runtime of 128 minutes. The Blu-ray packaging incorrectly lists it at 88 minutes, which would actually be a far preferred length, especially if the majority of the musical numbers were cut.
The Blu-ray release offers “Pete’s Dragon” in a decent looking format, though high-definition does it no favors. Its combination of live action film and animation may have looked good in 1977, but by today’s standards the edges are rough, seams obvious, and even Elliott’s colors are inconsistent. Likewise, the three bonus features presented on the release are recycled in standard definition from past DVD releases, none particularly enjoyable to watch on a big high definition screen.
Overall, only those who grew up watching “Pete’s Dragon” with a special place for the film in their memories will enjoy this release. Today, it’s a bit of a chore to get through. I’ll stick to enjoying the Walt Disney World parade.
“Pete’s Dragon” is available now on Blu-ray via Amazon and other retailers.