You can be fairly sure with the animated Disney films that you're going to get something good. But with the studio's live-action films there are no guarantees. On the one hand, you might get something like Mary Poppins or 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - in which case you'd be plenty satisfied. On the other hand you could get something as terrible as Popeye, in which case you'd need a great deal of willpower to make it to the end. Pete's Dragon is one of Disney's live-action ventures (though it features one animated character in Elliot, the dragon of the title). Though a little overlong and rambling, it is on the whole a well-made and entertaining film, and it is certainly a gulf ahead of the likes of Condorman, Popeye and Herbie Goes Bananas.
Scruffy young orphan Pete (Sean Marshall) is on the run in the woodland of Maine from the Gogan family, a bunch of abusive rednecks led by Lena Gogan (Shelly Winters), who claims that she owns Pete because she bought him at a market. Pete escapes from them, and sets off for Passamaquoddy, a nearby coastal town where he hopes to find safety. Accompanying Pete is an animated dragon named Elliot, who can make himself invisible and who has come to look after Pete until the kid has got his life sorted out. Once in Passamaquoddy, Pete and Elliot inadvertently cause havoc, including scaring the wits out of lighthouse-keeper Lampie (Mickey Rooney). They hide out in some nearby caves, but Pete is found by Lampie's daughter Nora (Helen Reddy), who decides to take him in. Elliot's job seems done (Pete is now safe and wanted, after all) but then con-man Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) arrives in town.... and soon he's got his mind set on capturing the dragon.
Like I said, the film is rambling, and from this synopsis it's clear that the plot wanders around a lot, introducing probably more events and characters than necessary. Nonetheless, Pete's Dragon is still entertaining. Jim Dale as the unscrupulous Dr Terminus, and Red Buttons as his dim side-kick, are genuinely funny villains. The blending together of animated Elliot and the living, breathing actors is very good - especially for 1977 - though in a shipwreck sequence near the end the special effects are utterly dreadful. Kids will find a lot to like in Pete's Dragon as long as they can sit still for over 2 hours, and adults too will find pleasures along the way. It's certainly one of the better live-action offerings to come from the Disney studio at a time when their output was quite indifferent in quality.
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