I don't remember liking 'Pete's Dragon' as a youngster. I remember my parents making me watch it. Then I remember thinking that they liked it much better than I did. After watching it again I found myself liking it a tiny bit more as an adult than I did as a child. No doubt today's generation of kids may find 'Pete's Dragon' to be a little too tame compared to what they're exposed to.
'Pete's Dragon' is one of those older movies (1977 to be exact) where you may find yourself wondering if something like this could be made today. Why, you may ask, do I pose such a question? Well, all you need to do is take a gander at the opening song's lyrics and keep in mind that the ruffians on screen are singing about a child.
Gonna snag him, gag him, drag him through town
Put his head in the river, let the pup drown,
Trap him, strap him, wrap him in a sack. Yeah!
Tie him screaming to a railroad track.
When I was younger I thought it to be an innocuous song with well-timed rhymes. I must admit during my most recent viewing my mouth fell open just a little as I was taking in exactly what they were saying. Which left me wondering why my parents thought this was a good movie for a child.
Okay, maybe I'm reading too much into it. It's a story about a kid and his dragon friend who can cause himself to become invisible whenever he wants. There is more of a stage play air at work here, which is what most live-action Disney films feel like anyway. Actors routinely overact much like they would on stage. Mickey Rooney is hilarious and annoying all at the same time.
Pete (Sean Marshall) is a lonely orphan who's just looking for a loving home to take him in. At some point in Pete's life he stumbled across Elliot, who just happens to be a clumsy large green dragon with a sunny disposition. Pete and Elliot escape the grips of an evil the Gogans, an evil backwoods family. They find their way to the small town of Passamaquoddy where Elliot soon gets into trouble; trouble that is quickly blamed on Pete.
After watching 'Pete's Dragon' again I feel like I was able to look at it with a more critical eye than before. While the lyrics in the Gogan's song struck me as overtly mean, I didn't feel as much animosity towards the movie as I once did.
As far as live-action Disney features, 'Pete's Dragon' feels like its sitting firmly on the second-tier, being beat out by classics like 'Pollyanna' and 'Mary Poppins.' Yet there's much to admire about the movie on the technical front. The blending of animation and live-action ages pretty well even though it's 35 years old now.
Instead of taking it in as a seminal Disney work, 'Pete's Dragon' seems more apt to be a film we watch with passing amusement, remembering its unconcealed corniness and marveling at how long Mickey Rooney has been old.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Disney has given 'Pete's Dragon' a 35th Anniversary Edition release. It is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. The Blu-ray is a 50GB disc. Inside there's a leaflet that includes a Disney Movie Rewards code. There is a slipcover provided with the same artwork as the case and it's a region free release. Note: There is a running time misprint on the cover that states the movie is 88 minutes long. It's actually 128 minutes long.
Like most Disney releases, we've been given an above average transfer that shines new light on an old catalog title. 'Pete's Dragon' comes with its own quirks and easily spotted drawbacks, all of them attributed to the blending of live-action and animation in the same scene, yet for the most part Disney has provided a wonderfully clean presentation that will thrill fans.
What you'll notice here that you probably didn't notice in the VHS and DVD releases of the movie is the textual detail that is brought. We get more tangible textures this time around from the woven pattern of Rooney's thick sweater to the ratty rags worn by the dirty Gogan family. Facial detail, like Pete's freckles are perfectly visible. So is Rooney's beard, which has never been so defined. Contrast is well balanced. Black levels are actually very deep, with minimum amount of crush going on. I was surprised at the shadow detail during the scene where the ship is coming into shore during the raging storm in the dead of night. However, there are some darker scenes with greying around the edges where it should be just as black as the rest.
The few problems that there are, arise with the incorporation of the animation with live action. Sometimes the color fill on Elliot appears as a bright, vibrant green and other times it’s a duller version of the same color. At times these color changes happen instantaneously in the same scene. Some green screen effects haven't aged well, like the ocean outside of the cave entrance and the high-def experience only points out the flaws even more. However, these flaws seem rather small when you consider the whole. I was impressed at what Disney was able to do with this film, as they gave it a thoughtful restoration.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix feels a little less impressive though. Here we have a solid mix that seems to falter in some key areas. While it delivers some clean, decisive sound from the front speakers, the rear speakers are oddly left out much of the time. Even during scenes where crowds have gathered, the rear speakers seem reluctant to join in on the fun.
LFE is light throughout the movie, only piping up for a few raucous occasions, like the raging storm, or Elliott plowing through a couple schoolhouse walls. Dialogue is intelligible, yet much of it is accompanied by a low hiss that can be heard on occasion. Other times dialogue sounds a little muffled or hollow. The songs and their accompanying music are featured nicely though. The volume seems to amp itself up a tad whenever a song comes on the soundtrack. Otherwise it's an acceptable mix, but it won't astound anyone.
When I think of the best live-action Disney films 'Pete's Dragon' never really comes to the forefront of my mind. It'll always be overshadowed by the true classics in Disney's vault, but it's nice to see that Disney is starting to bring them to Blu-ray in a dignified way. Fans will be happy with the way this one turned out. While it isn't a classic, it also isn't a title you'll be cursing about buying simply to keep up with the collection.