Skip to main content

What happened to Pete's Dragon?!

Confession: I was born in the 1970's.

So my rose-colored glasses for the era's entertainment are firmly in place. I have these beautiful, fun memories of things that, sadly, just don't hold up. Like almost anything from the 1970's or 1980's, a few decades of intervening time hasn't been kind. My children, for instance, cannot wrap their minds around The Smurfs. I'm really lucky, I suppose, that a few things have either made comebacks or had unique staying power.

Yesterday afternoon, when we got back from the splash park, we sat down and tried to watch the 1977 Disney film Pete's Dragon. Reality check, I probably didn't even catch this movie the first time around since I wasn't born yet. My guess is I'm remembering the (shortened) 1984 release. Well, really I'm mostly remembering the Read Along book and cassette tape followed probably by VHS. But that's neither here nor there. It's awful.

Ok, maybe not "awful." It was nominated for two Academy Awards and a Golden Globe...all for song or score. It had moderate box office success being made for $10 million but grossing $36 million. At the time, it was a mixed bag with critics. Today it scores an even 50% with Rotten Tomatoes though audiences love it a bit more. Mostly, it's considered to have plot holes (more on that in a minute), be boring, and offer a horrible attempt at recreating the success of 1964's Mary Poppins. (I've seen Mary Poppins and you, sir, are no Mary Poppins!)

As we sat there watching, the sad part is that my kids were...almost...interested. I always joke that being "almost" good is worse than being bad because it shows there was some hope if things were done differently. In this case, aside from the basic high jinks and cute main characters, my kids needed a lot of explaining. Who are they? What are they doing? What is that strange set piece?

For those who aren't familiar, Pete's Dragon is the mostly live-action story of an orphan boy named Pete who has a cartoon dragon named Elliot for an only friend. Elliot can fly, breathe fire, and turn invisible. Pete ends up in the seacoast town of Passamaquoddy while being chased by an abusive, adoptive hillbilly (are there hillbillies in Maine in 1900?) family. Pete gets on the bad side of the egg man, milkman, school teacher, and various other townspeople before being chased away to a cave along the shore for solitude. With me so far?

Enter the drunk lighthouse keeper named Lampie--played by Mickey Rooney--who catches a glimpse of Elliot and tells a tavern full of unbelieving rough seafaring types. There is dancing on barrels of beer, foam everywhere, and a lot of boisterous drinking. Lampie has a daughter, Nora, who eventually comes to tell Pete that the cave he's in will fill with water at high tide. So she takes Pete up to the lighthouse for a bowl of chowder while Elliot has to stay behind in the cave. Here we learn that Nora was engaged to a sailor whose ship was lost at sea and she's been mourning him.

That's about where we tuned out.

I can tell you that there's a traveling medicine show and shill, nobody believes Elliot exists, and a final big scene where the lighthouse lamp goes dark, there's scheming to capture the dragon, Nora's fiance had amnesia, and the day is eventually saved.

I don't even know where to start. The kids were confused about the barrels, the beer foam, the family gang of hapless fools for villains...and why are they chasing Pete? One of the chief criticisms of the film has been that there is no backstory to speak of for Pete. We know he's an orphan and he describes his past a bit...we know that the Gogan family has money tied up in Pete, for instance...but it's never really fleshed out other than the obvious "boy running away" trope. I don't mind that so much because, especially American, fiction with parent-less child always has a Huck Finn classic charm. But my kids haven't read Mark Twain yet so the idea of an orphan itself is weird let alone an orphan who had it so bad he's decided to strike out for himself. That's more of an adult backward-looking falsehood. To actual children, it's frightening.

The movie certainly has flaws. But what where it really lost us is how poorly it holds up for some of the smaller production issues. The special effects aren't bad, but not great. Everybody looks "Music Man" fake small town. In reviewing a few articles on it, what struck me is how good we've gotten at the genre of childhood entertainment. The reason Pete's Dragon doesn't hold up isn't that it was a bad attempt at the time, per se. It fails to be another Mary Poppins because it's very, very difficult to make something with that kind of quality and wide appeal from young to old. These days, there are shows for preschoolers, shows for under-10, shows for tweens, shows for teens...in 1977, a family movie was expected to cover a broad range of ages. And, today, we often speak about how our children are marketed to and blasted with options like never before...usually spoken in a negative tone. Well, this is the opposite of that. You get a hole-filled, bland, vaguely-wholesome product that tries to appeal to everybody and thus nobody. It comes across as overly quaint, too cute, and not driven by anything external. In my opinion, that's almost creepier. At least today's children's entertainment is sincere.

As an adult, it failed to bring back the same magic I remember. And my kids certainly weren't interested in a movie too complicated to figure out yet not fun enough to pass the time. The good(?) news is that the remake with CGI dragon will be released by Disney in August of 2016. Maybe this one needed it?

Comments

  1. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Chrome. I'm not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with internet browser compatibility but I figured I'd post to let you know. The design and style look great though! Hope you get the issue resolved soon. Kudos




    Box Office

    Official Movie Site

    Movie Review

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Larry,
      Thanks for the heads up. Checked it out on both mobile version and the latest version of Chrome and no problems. It may be on your end? No running off the screen here!

      Delete
  2. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Chrome. I'm not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with internet browser compatibility but I figured I'd post to let you know. The design and style look great though! Hope you get the issue resolved soon. Kudos




    Box Office

    Official Movie Site

    Movie Review

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a topic which is close to my heart... Cheers! Exactly where are your contact details though?



    The Summer's

    Movie Trailers

    movie cast

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment